The most rattled NHL starting goaltender in recent memory has brought a calming presence to the American Hockey League.
Humbled by a 10-day conditioning stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ farm club, Jonathan Bernier has responded with back-to-back shutouts and razor focus for the Marlies, according to Kyle Dubas.
“He just looked excellent in the net,” Dubas, the Marlies general manager and Leafs assistant GM, told Brady & Walker Wednesday on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “In both games he’s gone through the first period without facing a high-quality scoring chance, and in the second period, he’s faced a flurry of chances in quick succession, and he’s been dialed in.
“That just shows me how focused he is.”
Bernier should see two more games with the Marlies this weekend, and Dubas feels confident that once his stint is over and James Reimer returns to health, the organization’s nearly comical goalie carousel will stop spinning. (Our best guess: Bernier starts Friday in Utica and again Sunday, when the Marlies host the Comets.)
The Marlies have already played five different goaltenders this season — and dressed a Zamboni driver. Dubas credits the organization’s positional depth for being able to call up netminders from ECHL Orlando to fill in for the Marlies, while Sparks and Antoine Bibeau enjoy a look in the big leagues.
Regardless of their age, Dubas said the Leafs are trying to place their goaltenders in a position to develop and enjoy success.
“Jonathan has been excellent in every regard since he arrived with the Marlies a week ago,” he beamed. “I couldn’t be happier for Garret Sparks with the success he’s had with the Leafs.”
It’s worth noting that Toronto has not made an official decision on whether to send William Nylander to the 2016 World Junior Championship, despite the AHL star being named to Team Sweden’s preliminary roster Monday.
The Leafs brass will meet soon to determine whether they’ll give Nylander the go-ahead, but Dubas did tip his hand.
“For us to deny those types of things is short-sighted,” Dubas said. “Those type of events are experiences that come along so rarely for players.”