Photo Credit: Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com
Statistical regression has a habit of coming back to haunt players, but it’s rare that it happens all so suddenly. Jonathan Bernier’s start to his conditioning stint went drastically better than expected as he became the first Marlies goaltender to post three consecutive shutouts. But in his fourth and final appearance the Bernier that showed up was reminiscent of the one that the Leafs were trying to mentally mend.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) December 13, 2015
In a fashion that’s become stereotypical of late, Bernier was beaten by the first shot of the game, this time coming from Comets defenceman Jordan Subban. It wasn’t an awful goal to give up by any means; high percentage, high powered, and highly targeted, but its situations like this that have lead to slippery slopes in his games with the Leafs this year.
Sure enough, the struggles continued throughout the game. While he managed to finish the first period unscathed, Bernier allowed goals from Alex Friesen and Mike Zalewski before the second was even two minutes through. Friesen’s goal, a wrist shot from between the defensive faceoff dots, was slightly screened by Stuart Percy while Zalewski’s had no obstruction and was just a simple backhand. The goals came after a weird stretch of Bernier making atypical moves to try to make saves; even bringing back the double pad stack shortly before Friesen’s goal.
Luckily for Bernier, his teammates responded with goal support. To add on top of Matt Frattin’s first-period backhand, Eric Faille scored his first goal as a Marlie a few minutes after Utica’s pair, and William Nylander closed out the period with his 14th of the season. This tied up the game, and when Mark Arcobello wired home his ninth on an early third-period powerplay, it looked like the Marlies just had to park the bus and wait the rest of the game out.
Heres Alex Friesen’s OT Winner. His second goal of the night. pic.twitter.com/PvhY54CTVM
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) December 13, 2015
Things didn’t quite work out that way. John Negrin finished the work of the previous mentioned Subban with exactly a minute to go in the game, forcing overtime. The extra frame was very brief; almost immediately after it started, Friesen found himself on another rush, and while William Nylander did his best play last defenceman back, Friesen easily slipped the puck through Bernier’s five-hole to win the game by a score of 5-4.
Ultimately, Bernier’s conditioning stint looks pretty good when totaled up. Stopping 91 of 96 shots gives him a save percentage of 0.948 over the four games, which is more than most could easily ask for. The process is the most alarming part though. Given the mental nature of this stint, you’d imagine that you would like the goals and saves to be distributed evenly, or at the very least, have the goals come at the start. Now, there’s a very real chance that any positive mojo gained over the past week could have gone to waste.
For the Leafs, there’s only one way to find out. They’ll have to play him and find out if he can shake this sour note off, or if his NHL woes are bound to continue. That opportunity could come as soon as Tuesday, when the Leafs take on the Tampa Bay Lighting. As for the Marlies, they now get two days off before starting a northeastern road trip in Binghamton on Wednesday night.