When Jonathan Bernier was sent down to the Toronto Marlies on a conditioning stint, it wasn’t to recover from an injury. It was to recover from a fragile state of mind; the Leafs’ highest-paid goalie was 0-8-0 in his first nine appearances with the team, and his 0.888 SV% was near the bottom of the league.
Tonight, he pulled on the Marlies uniform for the first time in Rochester, and made his first step in the right direction, stopping every shot against in a 4-0 Toronto victory. Admittedly, this was a very, very easy game for Bernier.
As we all know, the Toronto Marlies are excellent at hockey and are the second best team in the AHL by points percentage. They also headed into tonight on their only losing streak this year, having lost a pair to St. John’s in the previous weekend. Naturally, this meant the team would be hungry for redemption, and a look at the shot count was proof of this. In every single period, the Marlies were on the verge of doubling up on the Amerks, eventually outshooting them 38-22.
Obviously this meant that Nathan Lieuwen had a rough night, but as last night’s loss to Minnesota showed, pucks on net don’t matter unless they go in. In this regard, Toronto was helped out by two of their highest profile names, in William Nylander and Nikita Soshnikov.
Nylander took over the second period, making the most of his opportunities and scoring not one, but two powerplay goals. The nicest of which was this snipe from the point that broke the ice:
Here’s Nylander’s first goal from tonight. His wrist shot is absurd. pic.twitter.com/cqU0esvBD1
— J*ff V**ll*tt* (@JeffVeillette) December 5, 2015
His second goal ended up in the same spot but came as a rebound from a blocked shot. In between, Nylander also had a breakaway opportunity which saw him go glove side rather than blocker only to have his attempted snipe get caught. This series of events does little to discount my theory that Nylander is the real-world Gunnar Stahl. In any event, his performance made him the first in the AHL to hit 25 points this season and leaves him with 26 in 20 games.
If Nylander was the star of the first half of the game, Nikita Soshnikov was the star of the second. He continued Toronto’s run with a snipe on a shorthanded odd-man rush in the closing minutes of the middle frame, and three minutes into the first, took a solo mission into the slot and banged home another tally. This put the game far out of reach for the Amerks, who had done their best to keep Bernier busy throughout the night, but really couldn’t muster up any significant scoring chances.
Overall, it was a night everybody needed. Mark Arcobello and Gauthier joined Nylander and Sohsnikov in having multi-point nights. TJ Brennan and Kasperi Kapanen kept their recent pursuits of the scoresheet up. Bernier, while not a player who took over this game, got exactly what the doctor ordered; a low-risk, low-challenge game to remind him that hockey is fun, and not torture. This could be the start of a turnaround.
Or, you know, a glitch in the system. But there’s only one way to find out; more hockey. The Marlies return to Ricoh Coliseum tomorrow afternoon to take on the Manitoba Moose.