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The puck goes over Jonathan Bernier's shoulder and into the net giving the Montreal Canadiens a 2-1 lead over the Leafs in an October game.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Jonathan Bernier watched from the bench and charted faceoffs as Garret Sparks stopped all 24 shots he faced. A day earlier, the Toronto Maple Leafs' No. 1 goaltender of the recent past quietly took off his pads as the rookie beamed about making his first NHL start.

These are trying times for Bernier, who has allowed four or more goals in four of his past five starts. Among goalies with at least eight starts, Bernier's .888 save percentage and 3.28 goals-against average are second-worst in the league.

It has gotten so bad that with starter James Reimer injured, coach Mike Babcock would rather give Sparks chances to play than risk it with Bernier. Figuring out what to do with the 27-year-old is the biggest question facing the Leafs for this season and the future.

Asked Monday morning about what's next for Bernier, Babcock said he didn't know but quickly added, "time."

"He's probably never been through anything like this," Babcock said. "So he's got to rebound, but at what expense? We've got to figure that out."

So far it has been at the expense of losing. Bernier wasn't the only culprit in going 0-8-1 in his nine starts, but his penchant for giving up bad and ill-timed goals has cost Toronto dearly.

The franchise is looking long term, so losing more games in an effort to get Bernier back on track isn't the end of the world. But don't tell that to the coach with the Stanley Cup ring, two Olympic gold medals and the US$50 million, eight-year contract.

Babcock doesn't like to lose, and he thought Sparks gave his team the best chance to win Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers. The 22-year-old stopped all 24 shots he faced, and afterward Babcock said Sparks would start Wednesday night in Winnipeg if Reimer wasn't healthy.

So here's Bernier, considered the Leafs' goaltender of the present and future and signed through next season, demoted to be the third-stringer. His confidence is shot, and now he's left searching for answers.

"It's not like one day you're good, one day you're bad," Bernier said Monday. "You just got to stick to it and believe that you were a good goalie once and it's not that it's gone. It's all about confidence. I think the way to get it back is really working hard and know the answer when you go in the game that you can make those saves."

When Bernier will get that chance remains to be seen. It could be as soon as Thursday at the Minnesota Wild if Reimer can't play, but given his recent play, will Babcock go back to Bernier?

Babcock has talked about Bernier being a good or even a great goaltender. That he hasn't been even close is baffling.

"I don't think it's a physical thing at all," Babcock said. "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."

The Leafs could let Bernier play his way out of this or potentially send him to the minors on a conditioning stint if he agrees to go. No other realistic options exist, considering Bernier's $4.15 million cap hit and rock-bottom trade value.

And then there's the pure fact that Bernier might be able to snap out of this and help the Leafs win games. Before getting hurt in March 2014, he was a .925 save percentage goalie and a chief reason Toronto was in a playoff spot.

Dreaming of the playoffs is a long way away, but Bernier was supposed to be the goalie when that day came. To keep that a possibility, he has to fix what ails his game.

Bernier will try to do that in practice as he rehabilitates his confidence.

"I know that if you stick with it and you work really hard and that's part of life," Bernier said. "Anything in life, if you quit then you're never going to get it. I'm just going to stick with it."