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.