It breaks the rotation, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are going back to Jonathan Bernier for a second straight night.
Bernier will start for the fourth time in the Leafs last five games against the Nashville Predators on Thursday, and the reasoning is rather simple.
He shutout the Preds earlier this season and has a ridiculously good history against them, with an 8-1-0 record, .941 save percentage and just 11 even strength goals allowed in those nine games.
One of Leafs coach Randy Carlyle’s rules is he doesn’t talk about who he starts, but he did address the notion of having a strong tandem this season, even bringing up some of the better goalie duos in league history in doing so.
“This isn’t uncommon,” Carlyle said. “When you have two quality goaltenders. If you can put them in situations where they’re going to compete for the net, compete against one another… they’re really competing for the team…
“What we try and do is create 1A and 1B. We’ve done it before. To say we’re the only group that’s ever done it is crazy. Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower played together, didn’t they?... Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog played well as a pretty good tandem in Edmonton in their dynasty years. So there are examples that you can go back to where there has been two goaltenders that have gone in played very well.
“I think it’s a sign of strength and I think it’s a great thing for the organization.”
He’s right in that both goalies have been excellent overall. Reimer is fourth in the league in save percentage at .942 and Bernier is tied for fifth at .939, an almost negligible difference given the sample size.
Don Cherry’s recent comment that Bernier has had the easier starts also isn’t true, as the average team both goalies have faced so far is on pace for 84 points this season. (Toronto in general has not had a very difficult schedule so far, with statistician Jeff Sagarin calculating they’ve had the third easiest matchups after 21 games.)
But Bernier has obviously had the net a little more often, especially lately, and this will be his 13th start of the 22 games so far. But it seems likely Reimer gets the call on Saturday against the Capitals.
Because there’s been so little separation to this point, switching back and forth certainly makes sense, but there will be an interesting dynamic around this team if either goalie begins to falter.
They can’t both maintain a .940 save percentage all season so something obviously has to give.
- The Leafs sent winger Carter Ashton to the minors on Thursday afternoon to get him a little more playing time. He also makes way for Tyler Bozak, who won’t play against the Preds but is likely to be back from a hamstring injury after a month away on Saturday against Washington.
- Look for Carlyle to sit one of his enforcers to go with a solid checking line by shifting Jerred Smithson to the wing. That means that Frazer McLaren and Mark Fraser (knee) will be the lone scratches.
- Nazem Kadri, meanwhile, returns from his three game suspension to centre the top line with Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. Trevor Smith keeps his spot on the second line, where he’s produced some offence of late and helped ease the burden of the Leafs absences at centre.
- Czech rookie Marek Mazanec will start his fifth career game for Nashville after shutting out the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. The Preds are fired up after beating both Chicago and Detroit and won’t go quietly in this one.