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Maple Leafs’ Bernier headed to AHL on conditioning stint, trying ‘to find game’

Jared Clinton
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Jonathan Bernier (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Maple Leafs’ Bernier headed to AHL on conditioning stint, trying ‘to find game’

Jared Clinton
By:

The Toronto Maple Leafs are sending netminder Jonathan Bernier to the AHL on a 10-day conditioning stint, and the netminder said there’s no one to blame but himself. Bernier is set to play four of six games during his 10 days in the AHL after losing his spot on the Maple Leafs’ roster.

November wasn’t a great month for Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier. When the month began, he was battling through a lower-body injury and, due to the stellar play of backup James Reimer, Bernier lost his starting gig.

The month got worse for him when, with Reimer out, Bernier turned in a subpar effort against the Washington Capitals, which resulted in Garret Sparks getting the call this past Monday. Sparks posted a shutout, and that all but sealed Bernier’s fate: he’s heading to the AHL.

The Maple Leafs announced Wednesday that Bernier, 27, will be joining the Toronto Marlies for a 10-day conditioning stint. Per article 13.8 of the CBA, Bernier had to consent to the conditioning stint in order to be sent to the AHL, and, according to TSN’s Jonas Siegel, will start in four of the six upcoming games for the Marlies. There is one catch, however. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Bernier will only be sent down if Reimer is healthy enough to suit up Wednesday against the Winnipeg Jets.

Taking the conditioning stint is almost a no-brainer for Bernier, who hasn’t been able to piece together solid starts in back-to-back games since a pair of games in mid-October. Against the Penguins Oct. 17, Bernier allowed two goals on 33 shots in a loss, and he stopped 34 of 35 shots Oct. 21 in a shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Those were Bernier’s only real gems of the season, and the Maple Leafs lost both outings.

The writing was on the wall for Bernier when Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said he needed the struggling netminder to rebound from his recent woes, but added he wasn’t sure what that would mean for the team.

“I don’t think it’s a physical thing at all,” Babcock said Monday, via The Canadian Press. “You’ve got to help the guy fix it. But the question I answered already: At what expense? It’s a team game, at what expense? You can go with him every night, it’s easy. But is that the right thing to do? I think we did quite a bit of that.”

It was evident that something was necessary when it came to the handling of Bernier, especially considering his recent string of play was simply a microcosm for a season that hasn’t gone his way. Per War-On-Ice, of the 40 goaltenders who have played at least 390 minutes at 5-on-5, Bernier has the fourth-lowest save percentage at .906. The only goaltenders who have been worse are Winnipeg’s Michael Hutchinson, Edmonton’s Cam Talbot and Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov.

Even worse for Bernier is that he’s having easily the worst season of his career immediately after signing a two-year extension with the Maple Leafs. His 3.28 GAA and .888 all-situations SP are ugly totals for a netminder who is earning $4.5-million per season.

Bernier isn’t taking the conditioning stint lightly, though, and said he took full responsibility for needing the conditioning stint.

“I need to be on the ice and looking at the (Maple Leafs’) schedule, we don’t play much after this week,” Bernier said, via TSN’s Mark Masters. “I’m looking to find my game and have some fun. I think that’s important…I’ll go out there, no pressure and have some fun.”

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Maple Leafs’ Bernier headed to AHL on conditioning stint, trying ‘to find game’