He wasn’t on the ice for very long, but Jonathan Bernier drew some favourable reviews in his unofficial debut for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The one thing that really stood out was his puck control. Toronto hasn’t enjoyed the benefit of a strong puck player in net since the days of Ed Belfour and it’s one of the areas were incumbent goaltender James Reimer is weakest. It’s always an advantage to have a sixth puck mover on the ice.
Bernier stopped 15-16 shots by the Philadelphia Flyers (who were playing a split squad game) in 28:38 minutes of playing time. The 25-year-old native of Laval, Quebec didn’t factor in the decision since the game was tied 1-1 when he left.
If puck control proves an advantage for Bernier over Reimer, he might be disadvantaged in the size department. Bernier is both shorter and thinner than his counterpart, and recent changes to the equipment rules punish smaller goalies. This was evident on the one goal allowed by Bernier, which slipped through his expanded five-hole.
Reimer and Bernier are battling for the ice time in Toronto – despite Reimer’s heroics last season, the team doesn’t have a clear #1 goalie right now – so they’ll look to exploit whatever advantage they have over each other.
An interesting aspect to their competition is the fact that both goalies are very young, very good and very comparable in career stats. Bernier currently enjoys a slight advantage in goals against average (2.36 versus 2.71), but Reimer holds an equally slight advantage in every other important goaltending stat: 53 wins versus 29 wins, .915 save percentage versus .912 save percentage, ten shutouts versus six shutout.
Although both goalies are the same age, Reimer also enjoys an edge in career games played at the NHL level. He’s played in 104 games whereas Bernier has only played in 62 games. Couple that with the fact Bernier has spent his entire career to date with the Los Angeles Kings – a much better team than the Leafs – and it can be argued Reimer holds the overall advantage. It remains unclear how Bernier will perform behind a “lesser” team.
Debate over who should play in net on a full-time basis is unlikely to end anytime soon, but Bernier has taken the early lead by winning Round 1 (though it wasn’t a knockout performance by any stretch of the imagination). We’ll see where things stand after the Leafs play their third exhibition game on Thursday against the Ottawa Senators.
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