It’s not news to anyone that the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t been performing to the best of their ability over the last two months (and if it is news to you, where have you been?).
The boys in blue won in a shootout against the New Jersey Devils Sunday night, their first win since the Winter Classic. The shots were 38-25 in favour of – drum roll please – the Devils. I know, I was shocked too.
One of the most obvious problems is that the Leafs are getting outshot more than any other team in the league. The irony here is that one of the most commonly used and well-known lines in any NHL player interview is “Uhh ya know, we’ve uhhh, just gotta get pucks to the net.” Seriously, they say it all the time, “uhh” and all.
While the lack of Leaf shots on net is frustrating, the silver lining is that despite having pucks flying at him left right and centre, Jonathan Bernier has a .926 save percentage so far this season, 7th overall in the NHL.
Looking at his career history makes Bernier’s performance in Toronto all the more impressive.
He has played 33 games with the Leafs so far, the most he’s played in one season in his NHL career. His time with the Los Angeles Kings was spent back and forth between the AHL, racking up a total of 62 games in the NHL over five seasons, during which his save percentage was .912. Of those 62 NHL games, 16 were played during the 2011-2012 season when the Kings won the cup. Bernier played in net with a Stanley Cup Champion team in front of him, which definitely improves a goalie’s chance at success, no matter how talented.
Long story short, he faced a total of 1,553 shots on goal, compared to the 1,083 he’s faced in 33 games with the Leafs, who are averaging 36.4 SA/G. Another 13 games at the same rate, and Bernier will have faced more shots on net in less than one season with the Leafs than the rest of his NHL career combined.
Now, all of this is not to say that Bernier is the sole solution to the Leafs’ defensive struggles, or that he is the be-all and end-all of the team. At this stage in the season, a good save percentage is not going to propel a team into a playoff position. If the Leafs have any hope of avoiding the looming “you only made the playoffs last season because it was shortened” comments, it’s going to take a full team effort, from forwards to goaltenders.
Is Bernier the key to leading Toronto to the playoffs? Debatable. True, he’s had his share of losses (he is 14-14-4 this season), but the Leafs’ level of play this season has not been that of a Stanley Cup Champion team.
What’s clear is that Bernier has managed to do his part on a team who can’t seem to find their rhythm, and has been one of their more consistent players thus far. When a team is 22-20-5, with only 12 regulation wins all season, any and all consistency helps.