TORONTO - James Reimer's return from injury was supposed to stabilize the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending situation.
But 10 days after making his way back into the lineup, the picture is no clearer than it was while he spent six weeks recovering from concussion-like symptoms. Reimer has gone 0-2-1 in his return and coach Ron Wilson was non-committal when asked if he would continue to roll with him in goal.
"It's hard to say what the order is going to be," Wilson said after Monday's practice. "I have in my mind whose going to play (Tuesday) night (against Carolina) and beyond that I haven't decided."
He declined to name his starter against the Hurricanes.
Adding some intrigue to the situation is the fact backup Jonas Gustavsson was playing well when Reimer returned. The man known as The Monster is 9-5-0 on the season and has won five of his last six starts.
Reimer acknowledged that there's been an adjustment in his return to the crease after a long stretch of inactivity.
"You're hoping it's not like that, but you can't replicate games, especially when you're out for so long and not doing anything for so long," said Reimer. "When all you can do to fix the injury is do nothing you kind of get out the loop a little bit. I'm just trying to focus real hard and work on my game."
Reimer entered the season as the team's unquestioned No. 1 goaltender and reeled off four victories in five games before getting injured in a collision with Habs captain Brian Gionta on Oct. 22.
The 23-year-old believes he's almost back to that level again and was particularly encouraged by his last outing against the Capitals—a 4-2 loss on Friday night.
"In Washington, I felt pretty much as good as a goalie can feel going into the game and even during the game," said Reimer. "Nothing surprised me, nothing came at me I wasn't expecting. It was just a couple of bad bounces.
"I felt that that was a good game for me as far as feeling how I need to feel."
The Leafs have slipped to sixth in the Eastern Conference and are anxious to avoid falling into a long losing skid. After facing the Hurricanes, they travel to Buffalo on Friday and host the red-hot Vancouver Canucks on Saturday—making it likely that both Reimer and Gustavsson will see action over the weekend.
Wilson has been keeping a close eye on the standings and knows how important points are with the races so tight.
"Of course I'm cognizant (of it)—jeez, I coach the team," he said. "We're in the NHL so you know where you are. Every team's cognizant of that fact. ...
"We've still got two-thirds of the season left and it's going to be, I think, a battle all the way."
Reimer handled a heavy workload after seizing the Leafs No. 1 job in January, appearing in 30 of the final 34 games of the season while the team made an unsuccessful bid for the playoffs.
Most expected him to be used in a similar fashion this season—until his injury opened the door for Gustavsson to get more playing time and the backup demonstrated that he could handle it. Now Wilson has a choice to make.
Reimer is confident he'll return to a high level with more playing time.
"There's plays that happen real quick that you can't really practice," he said. "It's just game situations. Once you play a couple games then you get used to them (again)."