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Bernier’s shaky start after AHL stint leads Babcock to turn to Sparks against Sharks

Jonathan Bernier didn’t win back his starting job Tuesday, and Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock is turning to Garret Sparks against the San Jose Sharks Thursday night. Bernier, who played his first game Tuesday after an AHL stint, allowed five goals on 27 shots in a 5-4 Toronto loss.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier allowed five goals on 27 shots in his first NHL since an AHL conditioning stint — including one on the second shot he faced in the contest. Because of Bernier’s performance Tuesday, Toronto coach Mike Babcock said backup netminder Garret Sparks will get the call Thursday against the San Jose Sharks.

It doesn’t appear to have been a predetermined start for Sparks, either. Babcock was asked who his starting goaltender would be Thursday, to which he responded that Sparks would be getting the call.

“Pucks are going in,” Babcock told the Toronto Star’s Mark Zwolinski Wednesday. “So (Garret) Sparks will start (Thursday).”

That’s not exactly a glowing review of Bernier’s play, and it seems as though Bernier is going to have to fight for every single start he gets from here on out. Bernier, who signed a two-year, $8.3-million deal in the off-season, has had ample opportunities but hasn’t been able to pick up a victory in any of his 10 starts with the Maple Leafs this season.

Bernier currently ranks 44th in the league with a 3.45 goals-against average and his .881 save percentage is 43rd. He’s also been one of the worst 5-on-5 goaltenders in the NHL this season. Of the 50 goaltenders who have played at least 300 minutes at 5-on-5, Bernier’s .906 SP ranks 44th.

Bernier was near unbeatable heading into the final game of his AHL conditioning stint. He posted three straight shutouts in his first three games, but was shellacked in his fourth outing, giving up five goals on 26 shots Dec. 13 against the Utica Comets. It’s hard to say if that shook his confidence heading into Tuesday, but Bernier wasn’t near good enough in Toronto’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Lightning. Bernier has now allowed at least four goals in five of his 10 starts and in four of his past five outings.

“I felt like I did some good things (Tuesday),” Bernier told Zwolinski. “My positioning was good, but I’ve got find a way to almost have a perfect game out there and get back on track.”

Babcock hasn’t announced his starter for Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, but that would be Bernier’s next chance to try to reverse his fortunes. If not then, Bernier could get a shot on either of the back-to-back games the Maple Leafs play Monday and Tuesday ahead of the NHL’s holiday break. There’d be no better gift for Bernier than having that “perfect” game.

(Advanced statistics via War-On-Ice)


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