TORONTO — Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, traded by the Kings to Toronto last summer for goalie Ben Scrivens, winger Matt Frattin and a second-round draft pick, appears to have found a home with the Maple Leafs.
Bernier, who is scheduled to start against the Kings on Wednesday at Air Canada Center, quickly earned his teammates’ respect and support.
“He’s been a great fit here. He’s a great goalie but he’s a better person,” Toronto defenseman Cody Franson said. “He’s a great fit in our room. He’s been a big piece of why we’ve had the success we’ve had.
“He’s played very well and we’re happy to have him.”
The Kings traded Bernier last summer because he was about to become a restricted free agent and, knowing that he wouldn't beat out Jonathan Quick for the starting job, the team couldn't fit a new contract for him under the salary cap limit.
Bernier didn’t speak to reporters after the morning skate Wednesday but his teammates readily praised him and his diligence.
Franson said he went to a world junior camp with Bernier years ago and played against him in junior hockey, so he knew a little bit about Bernier before this season. “The scouting report back then was the same as it is now. He’s a top-end goalie. He doesn’t give up much,” Franson said. “He makes you work for what you get.”
Franson also said he anticipated Bernier will have the motivation of an emotional edge when he faces the Kings.
“I think any time you play against the team you were previously with you have that extra incentive to try and win the game,” Franson said. “But he’s been solid for us all year and I’m sure he’s going to be good again tonight.”
Winger James van Riemsdyk said Bernier does what every team wants from its goalies: He gives his team a chance to win. “He’s done a great job,” Van Riemsdyk said.
“He’s made a lot of big saves. The goalies in general for us, their job hasn’t been easy this year, because they’ve been seeing a lot of pucks, but they’ve been doing really well and we wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
Maple Leafs Coach Randy Carlyle — the former Ducks coach — said Bernier has held up well under scrutiny here. He also recalled being impressed with Bernier in 2008, when Carlyle coached the Ducks in a season-opening series against Bernier and the Kings in London, England.
“He’s been a huge positive,” Carlyle said. “There’s been a huge focus, right from the day that we acquired him, that he was going to be our starting goaltender ….
“He’s geared up to seize the opportunity, seize the job, and he hasn’t disappointed. If you look at our goaltending as a whole, you’d have to say it’s probably been one of our stronger suits and Bernier has fit in with our group. He’s been a complement to our hockey club with his work ethic, his professionalism. He’s not a young guy anymore.”
Carlyle added, “Obviously, we feel very, very fortunate to have him.”
Carlyle was asked if the Kings’ 6-0 victory at Montreal on Tuesday had reminded him what they’re capable of, but he pointed out that he’s familiar with them from having coached against them with the Ducks.
“The L.A. hockey club is a big, strong cycling team,” he said. “They don’t give you much. Whatever you get you have to earn. They’re big guys. They’ve got strength down the middle with [Anze] Kopitar, with [Mike] Richards and [Jarret] Stoll, the three centers. I don’t think there’s anybody with three centers of that caliber, specifically playmaking and faceoffs. They play specialty teams, they play power play. They have a lot of strength down the middle.”
Wednesday’s game concludes a back-to-back sequence for the Kings. They’re scheduled for a day off on Thursday in Toronto — where many players have friends and family — and will practice in the area on Friday before flying to Ottawa for their game against the Senators there on Saturday. This trip will conclude at Chicago on Sunday.
ALSO:Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun