By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Dec. 22) – Don’t you think it’s time for Randy Carlyle to end the musical chairs routine with Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer? Wouldn’t the Leafs best be served if Carlyle implemented the off-season plan of general manager David Nonis – to anoint Bernier the club’s undisputed No. 1 goalie?
These are rhetorical questions.
Of course it is time for Carlyle to end the netminding charade. The Maple Leafs, for heaven’s sake, have three regulation-time victories in 24 games since the beginning of November.Three! If this were 1982 – prior to regular-season overtime and shootouts – Leafs would have a record of 11-16-11 for 33 points in 38 games. With the benefit of extra time and penalty shots, the club is 18-16-4 for 40 points. In the pre-1983 NHL, the Maple Leafs record since Nov. 1 would be 3-12-9 for 15 points. Instead, it is 8-12-4 for 20 points – still nothing to write home about.
This is a hockey club screaming for stability. The type of stability – as I’ve written here countless times – that Stanley Cup contenders procure from an unrivaled No. 1 stopper. Let us remind you of the post-expansion names in the NHL: Ken Dryden, Gerry Cheevers, Bernie Parent, Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr, Patrick Roy, Mike Vernon, Bill Ranford, Tom Barrasso, Martin Brodeur, Chris Osgood, Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek, Nikolai Khabibulin, Cam Ward, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Marc-Andre Fleury, Antti Niemi, Tim Thomas, Jonathan Quick, Corey Crawford – virtually all irrefutable No. 1’s on Stanley Cup winners since 1971.
Why can’t the Maple Leafs follow suit – even if a host of other maladies are in need of cure before the Blue and White is a viable contender?
RANDY CARLYLE APPEARS TO HAVE MORE CONFIDENCE IN JONATHAN BERNIER (SEEN HERE AGAINST DALLAS, DEC. 5) THAN JAMES REIMER. WHY NOT THEN ANOINT BERNIER THE MAPLE LEAFS UNDISPUTED NO. 1 GOALIE? GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
Bernier and Reimer have each had their moments this season and were both not virtually impenetrable in October, Leafs would be well out of playoff territory. But, the NHL season is nearly 50 percent complete. And we still have no idea – from one night to the next – whether Bernier or Reimer will be in goal, and exactly what governs the decision process. If media and fans are confused, imagine the guessing game among the Leaf players. Only two patterns have prevailed: Both netminders will play in consecutive-night games and Reimer has a shorter leash than Bernier (he’s been yanked three times). Where is it written that a No. 1 goalie in the NHL cannot see action in games 24 hours apart? And, isn’t there enough evidence for Carlyle to finally make a choice?
Barring injury or illness, Bernier will start for the Leafs Monday night against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Including today, Leafs play only five games in the next 18 days (with the Bridgestone Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Jan. 1). What a perfect opportunity for Carlyle to cement Bernier as the club’s No. 1 goalie… and allow Bernier – win or lose – to play in consecutive-night matches at Carolina and Washington Jan. 9 and 10. This move would be further facilitated by the Winter Olympics break; Leafs are idle for 18 consecutive nights from Feb. 9-27. Accordingly, the March and April schedules are more crowded than usual and Reimer could be called upon to spell Bernier more often.
Such a plan – until then – would remove a nightly mystery for the Maple Leafs and allow Bernier to achieve some rhythm. It is long overdue.
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