By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Jan. 8) – With every strand of DNA likely imploring him to abandon his No. 1 goalie scheme, Randy Carlyle has to resist temptation. Given a consecutive-night road swing through Carolina and Washington on Thursday and Friday, the Toronto Maple Leafs coach will likely use both netminders. But, he must send a clear message by starting Jonathan Bernier in the opener at Raleigh and following with James Reimer in D.C.
Nothing Carlyle has accomplished this season – and it hasn’t been much – would be quite so meaningful as to spike Bernier’s confidence after a dreadful game against the New York Islanders. Throw out Saturday’s debacle at Air Canada Centre with the New York Rangers because – oddly – not a single Maple Leaf skater had any desire to be on the ice. Bernier and Reimer could have played goal together and Leafs would have lost. Instead, Carlyle would be wise to consider the number of points Bernier has single-handedly accrued his hockey club in the first half of the season and – more importantly – how far beneath the Eastern Conference playoff terminator Maple Leafs would be right now if not for the goalie acquired last June from the Los Angeles Kings.
MAPLE LEAFS GOALIE JONATHAN BERNIER HAD A FORGETFUL NIGHT AGAINST NEW YORK ISLANDERS AT AIR CANADA CENTRE ON TUESDAY. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
As Brian Burke so frequently – and thoughtfully – mentioned: “It’s important to view the entire picture, not a particular scene.”
Problem with Bernier is that a couple of scenes have been part of a horror flick. The first – Oct. 17 at home to Carolina Hurricanes – resulted in the game-winning goal for the visitors. Defenseman Ron Hainsey fired the puck off the boards from the left-wing circle in his own zone. Before crossing the line for icing, it caromed toward the Leafs net. Bernier missed it with his stick and the puck deflected off his right skate into the goal. Hainsey and Bernier could stand alone on the ice – trying to re-enact the play – and it would take 39 years. X-rated scene No. 2 occurred against the Islanders last night. Just more than three minutes into the second period – the game tied, 1-1 – Frans Nielsen cleared the puck down the ice as a tripping penalty to teammate Calvin de Haan expired. Bernier came out of the net to his right and looked up briefly to see Islanders’ Michael Grabner bearing down on him. When Bernier looked back at the puck, it was sitting outside the trapezoid area. In hindsight, the Maple Leafs goalie should have played the puck and taken a minor penalty. Instead, he froze. Grabner swarmed in and easily scored on a wraparound with Bernier diving helplessly toward the net.
MICHAEL GRABNER (RIGHT) WHOOPS IT UP AFTER SCORING A GIFT GOAL ON JONATHAN BERNIER AT 3:06 OF THE SECOND PERIOD. TEAMMATES JOHN TAVARES (91) AND THOMAS VANEK (26) CELEBRATE WITH GRABNER. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
Fans tend to remember the ugly moments, to the exclusion of anything beforehand. It’s like someone getting a bad haircut. Almost immediately, his normal coif is forgotten. Carlyle has to rise above Joe Fan, who unavoidably responds with emotion. When Bernier fails, it’s time to play Reimer. When Reimer has a bad game, Bernier is the man. As Bernier’s coach, however, Carlyle understands – as well as anyone – what the Laval, Que. native has meant to his team. And though such ghastly mistakes as the one committed against the Islanders cannot be ignored, neither should Carlyle over-react. He has smartly identified a No. 1 goalie (even if he wouldn’t admit so on his death-bed) and he should stay the course until irrefutably compelled not to. Fans will say that time has arrived, conveniently forgetting Bernier’s game-saving effort just one week ago against Detroit in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Maple Leafs are clinging to an Eastern playoff spot almost solely because of Bernier. Carlyle should take that into account when determining his goaltending rotation for Carolina and Washington.
ABEL AND SANDFORD
The National Hockey League is fortunate to have a couple of terrific photographers in the Toronto area – providing images, on a regular basis, for NHL.com. Graig Abel of Mississauga (the Maple Leafs’ official photographer) and Dave Sandford of London, Ont. were each assigned the Bridgestone Winter Classic. They shot some dandy pictures.
TORONTO DRESSING ROOM AT UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN STADIUM. Dave Sandford
JOFFREY LUPUL IN PRE-GAME WARM-UP. Dave Sandford
PHIL KESSEL IN PRE-GAME WARM-UP. Dave Sandford
LEAFS STANDING AT BENCH FOR NATIONAL ANTHEMS. Graig Abel
ROOKIE LEAFS DEFENSEMAN MORGAN RIELLY (44) ATTEMPTS TO HOLD THREE RED WINGS AT BAY IN FRONT OF JONATHAN BERNIER. Dave Sandford
LEAFS FORWARD JAMES van RIEMSDYK (21) LOOKS FOR A REBOUND IN FRONT OF DETROIT GOALIE JIMMY HOWARD. Graig Abel
LEAFS DAVID CLARKSON AND RED WINGS KYLE QUINCEY BATTLE FOR PUCK. Graig Abel
WITH TODD BERTUZZI (44) CROWDING BERNIER, PAVEL DATSYUK OF THE RED WINGS MOVES IN FOR A PRIME SCORING OPPORTUNITY. Graig Abel
PART OF CAPACITY CROWD AT UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN STADIUM WATCHES ACTION IN FRONT OF THE MAPLE LEAFS GOAL. Dave Sandford
A TWO-SHOT SEQUENCE OF NAZEM KADRI JUST MISSING FROM POINT-BLANK RANGE IN FRONT OF JIMMY HOWARD. Dave Sandford
HENRIK ZETTERBERG (40) HUGS TEAMMATE DANIEL ALFREDSSON AFTER ALFREDSSON OPENED SCORING IN THE SECOND PERIOD. Graig Abel
(LEFT-TO-RIGHT) TYLER BOZAK, PHIL KESSEL AND JAMES van RIEMSDYK CELEBRATE GAME-TYING MARKER IN SECOND PERIOD BY van RIEMSDYK. Graig Abel
MORGAN RIELLY YELLS INSTRUCTIONS. Graig Abel
DETROIT NET COMES OFF ITS MOORINGS DURING A WILD SCRAMBLE IN THE FIVE-MINUTE OVERTIME SESSION. Dave Sandford
TYLER BOZAK (42) LETS OUT A WHOOP AFTER SCORING SHOOT-OUT GOAL THAT GAVE THE MAPLE LEAFS A 3-2 WINTER CLASSIC VICTORY. Dave Sandford
MAPLE LEAFS CELEBRATE THEIR SHOOT-OUT WIN. Graig Abel
GAME STAR JONATHAN BERNIER IS INTERVIEWED LIVE ON NBC BY PIERRE McGUIRE. Dave Sandford
THE PUCK STOPPERS
Given this blog is primarily about Jonathan Bernier – a goalie – here are several books in my collection devoted to such creatures:
THIS IS THE FIRST HOCKEY BOOK – DISHEVELED THOUGH IT MAY BE – THAT I EVER READ FROM COVER TO COVER (ALL 127 PAGES). IT WAS WRITTEN IN 1967 AND I BREEZED THROUGH IT IN MY FINAL YEAR OF GRADE SCHOOL: 1970-71. OTHERS ARE HERE:
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