Stick To Your Strengths

March 3, 2014 6:52 am

Jonathan Bernier has had a fantastic season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Through 46 games he has a sparkling .931 even strength save percentage (tied for 5th among goalies who have played at least 30 games this season) despite facing more shots against than all his peers (1148). There is no denying that Bernier has been a wonderful story so far this season as well as being undeniably the Leafs’ MVP.

There was never really any doubt Bernier was the goalie the Leafs organization wanted to carry the load this season and he has done nothing to make them look bad for that decision. That faith in Bernier has been evident for awhile now as the first year Leafs’ leash is much longer than incumbent James Reimer’s has been this season.  Bernier has started 21 of the Leafs’ last 29 games which has allowed him to get into a groove. Conversely, Reimer has unfortunately been cast aside seeing him start only 8 games since December 12th. The Leafs’ #1 goalie is Bernier. This has not been a discussion for a long time now. Do I think Reimer has been treated fairly? No. Does it really matter at this point? Not really. The Leafs are getting exceptional goaltending and are happy letting Reimer rot on the sidelines. Bernier having allowed 9 goals though in his past two games may finally open the window for Reimer to get some playing time. Regardless of how he performs though, I still see Bernier playing 80% of Toronto’s remaining games this season.

Cocky or Reckless? 

I mentioned how Bernier has been as advertised this season, but there is one department that hasn’t measured up: puck handling. Many proclaimed Bernier to be this great puck handling goaltender, but multiple times this season that skill has reared it’s ugly head and directly ended up in the Leafs’ net. Prior to the season it was mentioned how Bernier’s puck handling ability was going to dramatically benefit the Leafs’ transition game and help resolve their inability to quickly clear the defensive zone. This season (with Bernier in the net for the majority of it) Randy Carlyle’s team is even worse in getting hemmed in defensively and clearing the zone. Perhaps Reimer’s puck handling skills weren’t a factor in the Leafs defensive zone play last season after all?

Say what you want about Reimer, but he never raced out of the net only to misplay the puck. Reimer also never got caught in the trapezoid with the puck leaving an opposing player a wide open net to score in. The more the puck touches Bernier’s stick, the more likely it is that he makes an error. That is not an indictment on his puck handling abilities, but just the reality with all goaltenders and handling the puck.  Bernier’s just asking for problems. There is no reason for him to be trying too much to handle the puck. He has been phenomenal in the crease stopping the puck. He needs to stick to doing that and nothing else.

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  • Chris Shannahan

    Nice read. Bernier has been great for the most part this year, but he had a nice part in us losing the last 2 games. Is it focus, maybe shaky coming off the break? Not sure but I believe Reimer should get the next start. He hasn’t been at his best this year either but if he steps in and performs it may force Bernier to get going.

    Also just throwing this out there. Gardiner has been regressing as of late. This kid has so much promise…we were screaming for him to be played on a regular basis. Now that he’s playing I’m not seeing anything great and not much good in his game. Constant turnovers, and rare points. Reilly is turning into the better D-man all around and Gardiner may become expendable. Thoughts?

    • hope_smoke

      Thank you for the comment. I don’t think Rielly is turning into the better defenseman. Gardiner’s defensive play is underrated and his mistakes get magnified and discussed ad nauseam. If Franson’s, Rielly’s or any other blueliners mistakes were broken down as often as Gardiner’s are it wouldn’t seem as massive of a problem. Gardiner had a rough night against the Islanders but so did the rest of the team. It’s been two games since the Olympic break ended and the Leafs have looked bad in both contests. I think it’s unfair to single out Gardiner specifically. The Leafs entire defensive zone play is a problem and I think Gardiner’s issues have more to do with Carlyle’s systems then anything else. For example, watch the gap between the Leaf wingers and the defensemen on the breakout, they’re at the other teams’ blueline. Hard to make a 100′ pass every time. I wouldn’t move Gardiner. Huge part of the future.

      • Chris Shannahan

        Ok I will give him a bit more time. I did find that he coughed up the puck more for some reason, even in the offensive zone in the last 2 games. He didn’t look good in the Habs game that’s for sure. Before the break we were rolling pretty good, him included.

        I’m still waiting for him to break out of his shell though, I know he’s a good young player but maybe I was expecting too much. I guess time will tell.

        Our D system has been terrible all year, not sure what the issue is, but I know it’s not just him.

        • hope_smoke

          Check out Gus Katsaros’ system evaluations over at from earlier this year. It will identify exactly what the problems are

      • Jordan

        Wow! Hold up a sec. There is no denying that Gardiner continues to struggle defensively, and he makes a lot more mistakes than any of the other dmen. we can see now why he was left in the minors much of last season. Reilly has looked better overall for whatever reason. To blame Gardiner’s play on Carlyle’s systems is very weak but typical of many blogs.His mistakes aren’t magnified either, as no one really dumps on the kid. He’s still young but he really does need to.improve his defensive play. Also, the Leafs played ok in the past two games, and deserved to win the Mtl game especially. Reimer has been given a fair shot at the #1 job this year but has just dropped the ball too many times.These Leafs are a good team and Carlyle is a good coach. It’s about time people recognized this.

        • hope_smoke

          Leafs are 30th in the NHL in shots allowed per game, 28th on the PK and 26th in goals against per game. The systems are the main reason for the struggles defensively. This has been proven in the articles I suggested in my previous comment. Again, the Reimer-Bernier fairness thing has also been broken down and looked at. There is a distinct favouring of Bernier over Reimer. These aren’t opinions or theories, these are facts. Thanks for the comment.

          • Jordan

            I realize these numbers, but they continue to be relatively successful. The old theory that they are jist getting lucky has proven false, so what are the reasons? Can you at least give Carlyle some credit for the PP? There is no way to break down fairness by the way. Bernier has looked better this year,simple as that. Reimer has been given stretches of games but hasn’t been as good.

          • hope_smoke

            The reason they are successful is due to the fact that their goaltending (despite facing the most shots in the league) is top 5 in save percentage. If they were getting just top 10 goaltending they’d be in the lottery. Not only are the Leafs allowing the most shots, they’re allowing dangerous scoring chances. Carlyle isn’t coaching the goaltending to perform in this manner. There is an article at that does break down the way the goalies have been treated this season. I suggest reading it. Sure I’ll give credit to Carlyle for the power play. Will you acknowledge that his defensive systems are a complete mess and he does not understand how to properly use his roster?

          • Jordan

            Close but sv% numbers continue to be inflated by the amount of low quality shots the leafs allow.There allow a normal amount of scoring chances. Defence could be better, but its been much improved since the Gleason pick up. A teams overall play depends mostly on personnel rather than systems anyway. Basically the Leafs have been good bc they get good tending and score lots of goals. Same as almost any other good team.
            As for Reimer, I might check that article out but there is really no way to examine fairness levels, unless they broke down video of each goalies play. I doubt PPP would have done this as they are usually only good for comic relief, and rarely publish much reliable info.
            Also. how does RC not know how to assemble a roster? All I’ve seen is griping over how he uses his 4th line, which doesn’t really matter all that much.

  • JoeRov

    Reimer is too good to be rotting on the sidelines. Shouldn’t they have let him find his groove this year to raise his value when he is eventually dealt?

    • hope_smoke


  • leafer4life

    I agree with Reimer not getting playing time to get a groove. And this also holds for Clarkson who has been in/out of the line up for various reasons and is being swtiched in/out of various lines. You are bang on with Carlyle treatment of Reimer and for completeness need to add Clarkson and some of the fourth liners to get the bigger picture.