Jonathan Bernier Is Making The Adjustment To Backup Role With LA Kings

LOS ANGELES — The fact that Los Angeles Kings rookie goaltender Jonathan Bernier struggled to start the 2010-11 season came as quite the shock to many observers, especially those who have watched him excel at every level.

Whether it was junior hockey in Canada, leading the Manchester Monarchs (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) to the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference Finals last season, or three games with the Kings last season when he was brilliant, Bernier has shined in the starting role.

But this season, the backup to Jonathan Quick has struggled, despite the fact that he oozes elite level skills and technique.

Bernier was just 2-2-0 in his first four starts, despite posting solid numbers with a 2.26 goals-against average (GAA) and a .922 save percentage.

Looking deeper, Bernier was inconsistent in those games as he was having a tough time adjusting to life as a backup goaltender.

“I discovered that when you don’t play a lot, it’s kind of hard to get a rhythm,” the 5-11, 186-pound native of Laval, Quebec said, adding that he felt rusty during a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on October 20. “It’s my first time being a backup, so I’ve got to find a way. It may take time. I’ve got to find something. I think the big thing that I’ve got to adjust here this year is going to be feeling comfortable right off the bat.”

Kings head coach Terry Murray seemed to be a bit miffed when told that Bernier said that he felt rusty.

“[Bernier has to] figure it out,” Murray said rather bluntly. “You can never come back to me at the end of the game and say, ‘I felt a little rusty.’ Work at your game in practice. Put that kind of game focus and work ethic into practice so that you’re prepared for your opportunity when the game is there.”

“You have to figure it out as a player,” Murray added. “As a professional athlete, you go through the process. You’re going to get a lot of coaching, there will be system and structure put in place. But there comes a time when there’s enough of that and you have to go play, and you have to play an instinctive game. It just clicks at times, and you do figure it out.”

Murray was clearly not happy with Bernier’s comment. However, it did not put the young goalie in the coaches’ dog house. Rather, Murray looked at it as part of the learning process.

“I think Jonathan Bernier figured it out last year in the American [Hockey] League,” said Murray. “He had an unbelievable year with his work ethic. The bottom line was tremendous for him, but now it’s the next level. It takes a little bit of time.”

“That’s a learned skill,” added Murray. “I think that all goaltenders go through that process as young goaltenders. If you continually bring attention to it from me, from [Kings goaltending coach Bill] Ranford, it’s something [he’ll] learn and he’ll be better the next time.”

Bernier got three starts in November, during an eight-game stretch {November 15-29) where the Kings were absolutely wretched defensively, giving opponents one gift-wrapped scoring opportunity after another, hanging both Quick and Bernier out to dry time and time again.

Not surprisingly, the Kings lost seven out of eight games during that stretch—Bernier lost all three of those starts.

Since then, he has won his last two starts, a 6-1 victory at Nashville when he stopped 29 shots, and a 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at Staples Center in Los Angeles on December 26 when he made 18 saves.

In both games, the Kings played solid defensively, and Bernier was on top of his game.

“I felt pretty good,” Bernier said after the win over Anaheim. “It wasn’t my greatest game for rebounds. I gave up a lot of rebounds, but the guys were there for me in the right spots. I was just trying to make that first save.”

“When you get two wins in a row, that’s great,” added Bernier, who is now 4-5-0 this season, with a 2.78 GAA and a .903 save percentage. “I’ve been working really hard in practice, and I think it’s showing in my game right now. I’ve just got to keep going that way.”

Murray has liked what he has seen from his backup goaltender, the Kings’ first round pick (11th overall) in the 2006 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

“Bernier was pretty good here tonight,” said Murray following the win over the Ducks. “He had a lot of pressure around him with pucks and a lot of traffic. It looked like they had four guys around the top of the crease several different times, and he really held his ice. He played big, he played strong in the net.”

“This was a solid game by him, no question,” added Murray. “[The Ducks have] some very highly skilled guys. That [Ryan] Getzlaf line has scored more than fifty percent of their goals. There’s a lot of pressure coming at you, with that line in particular, in our defensive zone, and I thought he was very aggressive on the puck and held his ice, played strong in his crease against those big bodies that were jamming away several times.”

Aggressiveness, or a lack thereof, was one of the problems Bernier has worked on recently.

“He made some corrections in his game,” Murray explained. “Our goalie coaches were around for awhile, and spent some time with him. He made some adjustments, technically.”

“[Bernier needed] a little bit more of an aggressive attitude,” Murray elaborated. “On those plays coming from deep in the goal line area to the slot, where you have to be aggressive about it, you have to get out to the top of your crease, taking away angles instead of just coming across laterally, staying at the same depth. I think it has made a difference.”

Bernier also appears to have made considerable progress in adjusting to being a backup goaltender for the first time ever.

“I think it’s coming now that he’s played the last couple of games at a higher level—the level of play we expect him to be at on a consistent basis,” said Murray. “It is an adjustment. This is the first time he’s been a backup, probably through his whole life as a player. The adjustment has been made, emotionally and mentally.”

“The great thing is that he continued to work hard in practice to get his game back on track, so that when he did get in, he was going to take advantage of the opportunity and get some wins for us,” added Murray.

“I think it’s [been] good,” said Bernier. “i knew it was going to take a little bit. I think I feel much better in games, and I think I prepare myself a lot better in practice, too, to get ready for the games.”

Early in the season, Murray stated that his plan was to play his backup goaltender enough to give Quick more rest than he got last season—he wanted Quick to play somewhere between 57 and sixty games.

But with Bernier not on top of his game, Murray eventually tossed that plan out the window, turning to Quick more often.

Although Quick has been stellar all season long, rest is critical to keep him sharp—he faltered in the second half of last season with fatigue being the likely cause. But with Bernier raising his game, Murray is gradually moving back to his original plan.

“He had a big win against Nashville, and he had a big win again here tonight, so I’ll get back to looking at him more—back into our rotation,” Murray noted. “Quick is still going to play the majority of the games, but I’ve always felt confident in Bernier. I just want to put him in the right situations so he can be successful as a young guy in the National Hockey League.”

Bernier’s adjustment to the backup role should help him stay focused.

“I think [the adjustment to being the backup goalie is] coming,” he said. “The biggest thing I’ve found is [his mental preparation].”

“Sometimes, you get frustrated that you don’t play,” he added. “But I can’t complain. I’m playing [with the Kings instead of in the minors]. We have a great team, great teammates. Whomever is in the net, we just want to win.”

“That’s my goal for this year, and for every year. But, for me, this year, it’s to be supportive of Quick and my teammates.”

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5 thoughts on “Jonathan Bernier Is Making The Adjustment To Backup Role With LA Kings

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  1. Nice work Gann. It certainly does appear that Bernier has learned to adjust to the backup role on this team now. He’s been a starter everywhere he’s been throughout his whole life, so obviously this must have been an enourmous adjustment for him. I remember the Bernier who sulked after he got sent down and had to have a talking to from Hextall, he’s really matured now, and he seems to understand his role on this team. It’s good to see that Murray appears to be regaining some confidence in him too.

  2. The biggest thing I noticed is Bernier’s excitement after Quick wins a game. It’s genuine and he seems like he’s learned that it’s team first. The kid seems to get it which will make him an even better starter when he becomes one.

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