If Jonathan Bernier came down to get himself feeling confident about stopping pucks, he’s certainly well on his way to tearing up the NHL when he heads back. So far in his ten-day conditioning stint with the Toronto Marlies, Bernier has played in three games and faced seventy shots. Twenty-seven of those shots came on Friday night.
Like in the two games prior, he didn’t allow a single one, leading the way in a 2-0 Marlies victory.
I’m not going to pretend that Bernier has had to carry the Marlies with mindblowing performances every night that he’s played for them. Of the 56 shutouts in franchise history, his 22-save debut was the 11th-least adventurous of the bunch.
Two days later, he headed into the Air Canada Centre, and did the same thing again, except this time, he faced one shot fewer; knocking his previous effort into 12th and placing himself in the 9th seed, to match the nine goals that the Marlies scored in front of him.
That’s the key here; part of the reason that Bernier can regain his composure on the Marlies is the fact that his supporting cast is so good. Toronto has the most points of any team in the league right now and are just a sliver out of first overall by points percentage. Their 98 goals tie them with Texas for first in the league and their goal differential of +40, earned only a third of the way through the season, would have been 4th highest in 2014/15. It’s a sight to behold.
But tonight, they needed him. The Marlies were in this game as much as they always are, putting thirty pucks on net and outshooting the Utica Comets in the first and second periods, but Richard Bachman was standing on his head. As Toronto’s power play failed to convert, and their players started getting into penalty trouble of their own, they had to rely on Bernier to keep them in the game. He did; while he’s yet to have a highlight-reel moment of acrobatics, the 27-year-old was much more active between the pipes in this game and had to think much quicker than in previous efforts. The two-on-one (the one, by the way? William Nylander) above was just the tip of an iceberg that included wild scrambles and the odd breakaway.
As the minutes dwindled, people began to accept that this would end as a close one, but the Marlies’ first line wouldn’t allow for anyone but them to be the victors. Josh Leivo, William Nylander, and Richard Panik combined for nine of Toronto’s 30 shots, but none was as important as this one which broke the ice with nine minutes to go.
While the Comets did their best to play spoilers at home, Bernier held the fort for the remainder of the game. Richard Clune added an empty-netter and gave the Marlies their fourth straight win.
Unsurprisingly, Bernier is the first goalie in Marlies history to get a shutout in three consecutive appearances. This is also just the second time in team history that they’ve given up no goals in back-to-back games; Justin Pogge and Scott Clemmensen previously achieved that in February 2010.
Despite playing just three games, Bernier’s clean streak has moved him to a tie with Garret Sparks for the 6th most shutouts in Toronto’s 11-year history. If he ultimately runs the tables by putting up a final shutout in the last game of his stint, he could tie James Reimer, Drew MacIntyre, and Antoine Bibeau in the 4th seed, but he won’t get close to the top three.
Leading the Marlies in all-time shutouts is Ben Scrivens, who coincidentally wrapped out a shutout of his own for Bakersfield just seven minutes before. Scrivens, who was traded with present Toronto forward Matt Frattin and a draft pick for Bernier in June 2013, had 11 shutouts in 101 games with the Marlies. Scrivens also has the team record for fewest saves in on a shutout night, facing just fourteen shots in a 6-0 win over Hamilton on January 2nd, 2013.
Bernier said something interesting after his second game, comparing his assignment to the Baseball model, where conditioning stints of both the rehabilitation and re-inspiration variety are much more commonplace. I don’t know if what’s happening here is a trend (and if you’re the Leafs, you don’t want enough players to initially struggle to create that trend), but certainly, it’s looking like this assignment was the best case scenario for both sides.
The Marlies return to the ice tonight against the Syracuse Crunch.