When Jonathan Bernier was sent down to the Toronto Maple Leafs AHL affiliate last week, many people were worried. Bernier, the supposed number one man in Toronto, had taken a down turn this season.
With the job as starter, Bernier floundered early this season, not registering a win in 9 starts. James Reimer stepped in and kept the Leafs in games. He made the big save when they needed him to and got them in the win column. A weak 0-8-1 start with a 3.28 goals-against average and a poor .888 save percentage had management decide Jonathan needed some conditioning.
Last week, Bernier started his first game as a Toronto Marlie ended with a 22 save shut out. He wasn't overly tested but that may have been a good thing. Goaltending is a lot of mental work. When you're facing shot after shot, you're constantly in the game. Less shots, the harder it is to stay focused. With another shut out in his next game he was given his third straight start. A 2-0 final against the Vancouver Canucks affiliate, Utica Comets, gave Bernier three straight shutouts.
When the idea of Bernier going down to the AHL was suggested to him, he was open to it. Admitting he hasn't played at his best and multiple bad goals had him in agreement that a demotion may be the best thing for him.
"I’m not playing well, and that’s on me," Bernier said after he was sent down, via the Toronto Star. "It’s not on anyone else, I take full responsibility for this. I’m looking to find my game and have some fun as well. I think that’s important … go out there (with the Marlies), no pressure, and have some fun."
He's found his game at the AHL level, and now we'll see if that translates to NHL success. Bernier could get his fourth start tonight when Toronto plays visitor to the Syracuse Crunch. His 10-day conditioning stint ends this weekend.
The Maple Leafs don't play again until Tuesday when they play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bernier will be up with the big club by then and with Reimer still injured, he may get another shot in net sooner than later.
His replacement Garret Sparks has played 4 games in Bernier's absence going 3-1-0 with a 2.21 goals-against average and a.921 save percentage.