December 7, 2015
TORONTO — Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe already sees a different goalie in his net than what Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs had a week ago.
Jonathan Bernier, who was loaned to the Marlies on a conditioning stint with the hopes of finding his game, has posted back-to-back shutouts in his first two appearances with the AHL club — stopping all 43 combined shots his way in the two contests.
“We saw a guy that was very confident in the net,” said Keefe after the Marlies beat the Manitoba Moose 9-0 on Sunday. “(He’s) at the top of the crease, looking big, just looked very comfortable. Even if we gave up 40 shots I dont think any were going in.
“Any time we slipped up he looked like an NHL goalie.”
The 27-year-old netminder made 22 saves to blank the Rochester Americans 4-0 on Friday and followed that up with a 21-save outing against the Moose.
In both games Toronto did a great job of making it easy for Bernier by keeping shots to the outside and scoring chances low for its opponents. But Keefe viewed one save against the Moose as a game changer. The Laval, Que., native, who has been beaten far too often early in games with the Leafs — twice this season on the first shot of the game — came up big in the first against Manitoba.
“(He) didn’t get tested a whole lot but he makes a huge save right off the first shot of the game, first shift, and if that puck goes in, for (the Moose) they get a little life. It can change the whole hockey game.”
“Definitely I think I made one good save in the slot, other than that not much,” Bernier said about his workload against Manitoba. “It’s all about being square to the shooter and things like that. Even if you don’t get shots I’m starting to feel good.”
Bernier has been a welcome addition to the Marlies as he tries to regain the form he’s shown in the past, according to his coach and teammates.
The veteran treated his minor-league teammates to dinner Friday after taking a two-and-a-half hour bus ride to Rochester. He’s also been a positive influence in the dressing room, despite it not being an ideal time in his career.
“Guys rallied around his arrival here and then his attitude and approach in terms of being a good pro and bringing good energy to our team really helped us,” said Keefe.
“Guys love him,” added William Nylander.
Bernier had to agree to being demoted to the AHL after spending the past five seasons in the NHL and Rochester marked his first AHL start since April 10, 2010 when he was still a member of the Los Angeles Kings organization.
While a stint back in the minors could be devastating to some, Bernier is embracing the experience and taking it all in.
“Obviously I want to be here and get my game back,” said Bernier. “I’m happy to be here and win some games.
“It’s not like I was made to come here. I’m enjoying my time here and getting the best out of it.”
Bernier admitted that he’s had to make some minor adjustments from NHL life. The bus ride to Rochester was something he’s not used to and the same goes for afternoon starts and Star Wars themed games. But game action with the Marlies beats trying to overcome his adversity through just practising with the Leafs.
“I’m just going day by day, it’s a different mindset but it’s fun,” said Bernier. “Bottom line is just to play games, it wasn’t about practice.”
Bernier was 0-8-1 with a 3.28 goals-against average and .888 save percentage prior to being reassigned to the Marlies.
He is expected to make two more starts for the AHL club before rejoining the Leafs. Toronto’s schedule includes another three-in-three set next weekend, meaning the goaltender is most likely to start on the road Friday against Utica and Sunday at home against the same team.