December 14, 2015
TORONTO — Goaltender Jonathan Bernier says he found what he was looking for while playing for the Marlies and is ready to return to the NHL.
Bernier, who was loaned to the AHL club on Dec. 2 with an attempt to resurge his struggling season, went 3-0-1 in four starts with a 1.25 goals-against average and .948 save percentage. Prior to his stint with the Marlies, the 27-year-old netminder had gone 0-8-1 with a 3.28 GAA and .888 save percentage with the Maple Leafs — leading to him admitting that his issues were more mental than physical.
“I think I gained that confidence back,” said Bernier. “(I) made some adjustments in my game and I feel good so I’m ready to go back to the Leafs.
“Obviously (the AHL) is a different league, but guys can still shoot and make plays. I made some adjustments on my own and feel good.”
Bernier was flawless through the first three starts of his conditioning assignment, stopping a combined 70 shots for three consecutive shutout victories.
His fourth — and final — start, however, wasn’t nearly as comforting.
The Laval, Que., native gave up five goals on 26 shots in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Utica Comets and showed ghosts of his past by allowing a goal on the first shot he faced.
His shutout streak was at 187 minutes 58 seconds when Jordan Subban beat him with a quick backhand from in close to make it 1-0 Utica.
It didn’t get much better for Bernier in the second period as he allowed two goals on back-to-back shots only 49 seconds apart less than two minutes into the period to make it 3-1 Comets.
Alex Friesen beat Bernier 1:04 into the period while shorthanded with a wrist shot from the top of the face-off circle that deflected off the stick of defenceman Stuart Percy. Then at 1:53 Mike Zalewski fought off Josh Leivo for a partial breakaway and put a backhand over the glove of Bernier.
“We gave up a lot in terms of fast breaks coming at him,” said Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe, who also highlighted that it was his team’s third game in three nights. “We got ourselves in trouble with speed coming in behind us and in alone on the goalie essentially.”
Toronto responded with three straight goals and Bernier looked to have win No. 4 lined up, but with Utica’s goalie pulled and the Comets playing 6-on-5 Bernier was beaten again by Subban by another shot that deflected before hitting the twine.
The Marlies opened overtime with a power play. Sixteen seconds in, though, Friesen outmuscled William Nylander for a puck and then scored five-hole on Bernier on the breakaway for the win.
“Two deflections, I thought our power play gave up too much and that killed us a bit tonight,” Bernier said about the goals that got past him.
“I think today, obviously, he wasn’t the same as he was the previous three,” said Keefe. “He was perfect the previous three and I think that’s what he should take away from this experience being down here.”
It wasn’t the fitting end to a conditioning stint, especially with Leafs coach Mike Babcock in attendance, however Keefe and company see many positives from Bernier’s experience — his first AHL action since April 10, 2010 when he was still a member of the Los Angeles Kings organization.
And Bernier feels he got what he needed to rejoin the Leafs before the club takes on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
“First three games for us he was tremendous, confident,” said Keefe. “More importantly I think he was terrific at this time of year, had a lot of fun, great leader, great with our players and left his mark on our team in a positive way with his leadership and showing what it’s like to be a pro.”
“I enjoyed every moment with these guys, great group of guys and obviously when you win it’s always fun,” said Bernier.