SAN JOSE – Sharks coach Bob Boughner was having a drink and watching Saturday Night Live in the comfort of his home after his team’s loss to the Washington Capitals when he got an unexpected call.
It was from goalie James Reimer, who wanted to talk about what the Sharks could do – in just under 48 more hours — when they played against his former team, the Carolina Hurricanes, on Monday.
“He wanted to talk about some things that he saw last year that they struggled with that maybe we could do,” Boughner said, “and we had a 30-minute conversation about Carolina, right? This is a guy thinking, two nights before a game, already about what we can do against Carolina.”
The (well in) advance scouting report paid off. The Sharks hung in there against one of the best teams in the NHL before Kevin Labanc scored in the third period and Alexander Barabanov scored in overtime for a 2-1 win over the Hurricanes – the team Reimer played for from 2019 to 2021 before he signed a two-year deal with San Jose in July.
“I try and leave the coaching to the coaches,” Reimer said, “but obviously playing there, you get a really in-depth look at their system and what they do really well and maybe a few small things that you can exploit.
“I just tried to give tidbits and let (the coaches) do what they do.”
It’s tough to imagine Reimer, in his 12th NHL season, doing any more for the Sharks than he is right now.
In 10 games, Reimer, 33, has a .940 save percentage and a 1.87 goals-against average – marks that put him in the top five in the NHL among all goalies who have played at least five games. His 5-3-1 record might be a little better with some more offensive support, as the Sharks have scored a combined five goals in his four losses.
It might be a stretch to call it a career revival for Reimer, who has a respectable .914 save percentage and 2.76 goals-against average in 395 NHL games. But his save percentage right now is the best it’s been after 10 games since 2013-14 when he was 25 years old. It’s also 44 points higher than it was after 10 games last season with Carolina.
“He’s very driven. He’s very focused,” said Boughner, who was around Reimer when the two were with the Sharks in 2016 and with the Florida Panthers from 2017 to 2019. “He sits with the coaching staff and goes through every shooter on the other team before we play, tendencies and what guys are doing.
“This is a job for him, but it’s something he loves to do, and he’s 100% in and he’s looking to make improvements at his age.”
Reimer made 22 saves against the Hurricanes and will make his fourth start in five games Wednesday when the Sharks host the Ottawa Senators – a team he has a 16-6-3 record against with a .927 save percentage in 27 games.
Boughner said he believes Reimer’s in better shape now than when he was his coach with the Panthers. Not that his conditioning was an issue in Florida, but that he’s brought himself to a new level.
“You always try and work hard and take care of yourself and play the game the right way,” Reimer said. “But I think as you get older, you get wiser, or at least I’d like to think so, right?
“You learn some things and you learn what helps you perform to your peak. So you just try and grow every year you get older, you try and learn some new tricks to be able to play at your best and extend your career.”
Neither Reimer nor Adin Hill has gone more than a week between starts as the Sharks have tried to keep both goalies fresh. One has to wonder, though, if Reimer will get the lions’ share of playing time if he keeps this going.
“Anybody will tell you when you get in there more often … you’re just kind of going with the flow instead of trying to manage your emotions and exactly what you’re supposed to do,” Reimer said. “It kind of more just happens.”
Hill took the loss against the Capitals, allowing three goals on 20 shots, but he could easily be back in the net Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs – a team he’s already beaten this season. After that, the Sharks play five games in eight days on the road.
Reimer hasn’t played for any of the teams the Sharks will face on the road. Otherwise, Boughner might be getting another late-night call.
“He’s probably one of the most focused hockey players I’ve had in a while,” Boughner said. “He just puts so much into it. So, over the last few years, he has definitely improved. He’s all in.”