Bernier gives Kings poise, calm and a happy goaltending dilemma
In the olden days, when we reporters had material that didn’t fit into a story or column for the next day’s newspaper, we'd pull together the leftover notes and quotes and call it emptying out a notebook. Now, it’s more like emptying the digital recorder. Same principle, new technology …
Anyway, there are a few worthwhile leftover notes from the Kings’ 2-0 victory at Nashville on Tuesday.
First was Coach Terry Murray’s visible relief after getting a positive result after saying the team’s play hadn’t been entirely bad during its 0-3-1 slide. He said he told players before the game that they’d been putting themselves in the position of playing from behind too often, making them expend too much energy playing catch-up.
He told them, “Don’t be afraid of winning. Just go after it. Have some fun. Play it as the best time of the year for a hockey player."
Murray said there was “no question we were playing well five-on-five, but our special teams had not been able to get the job done for us. So here it is tonight, there’s only three power plays in the game, and that maybe is a sign of what we need to do here the next few games: Show composure, play with discipline, a lot of poise out there and making sure we’re not putting any pressure on the referees to make some calls.”
The underpinning of the Kings’ success was Jonathan Bernier’s calmness in a 34-save shutout, his first NHL shutout in six starts. Bernier’s alertness and command were exactly what the Kings needed at Bridgestone Arena in a crucial game against a team they hadn’t beaten in their previous seven tries (0-6-1).
“He had a pretty big game here today,” Murray said. “This is a building where we haven’t had any success. You see his composure and that first power play that they had he was under control. He absorbed some pucks. I think the season that he’s played in the minors has really done good things for him. He’s showing signs of becoming a real good goaltender at this level.”
Bernier’s teammates think he already is.
“He’s been awesome both times we’ve called on him,” defenseman Matt Greene said of Bernier, whose only other start this season was a 30-save shootout victory March 12 at Dallas. “He’s come in, and he played a great game for us. He’s just really calm in net." Greene said, although it was a big game, Bernier "didn’t show it tonight in terms of ... getting rattled. He was just playing his game.”
Fellow defenseman Sean O’Donnell agreed. “He just seems poised and calm back there,” said O’Donnell, who gave Bernier an insurance goal at 17:59 of the third period. “It’s nice to play with a young goalie that seems to have that already.”
Perhaps overlooked in the flush of victory was that O’Donnell moved ahead of Greene with his third goal and 14th point of the season. Any production from these defense-first defensemen is a bonus for the Kings, and the two have developed a friendly rivalry over their scoring — or lack thereof.
“He’s pulling ahead. He’s just unbelievable. It’s tough to keep up with a player with that much offensive skill,” said Greene, who has two goals and eight points. “He’s been doing a great job for us all year. He’s a clutch player. I think every one of his goals has been huge for us all year, and for him to get that goal is awesome.
“I wouldn’t say I expect it, but definitely we’ll take it.”
O’Donnell reveled in leaving Greene in the dust in their personal scoring race.
“Team O’Donnell is waiting for the phone call from team Greene for the official concession,” he joked.
Bernier’s performance does raise the question of what the Kings will do with him now.
He was summoned on an emergency basis to back up Jonathan Quick after Erik Ersberg strained his back and couldn’t dress for Monday’s game at Minnesota, and Tuesday’s game was a perfect chance to play him because it was the second in a back-to-back sequence and gave Quick a chance to rest before the team flew home to prepare for Thursday’s game against Vancouver at Staples Center.
Quick, who passed 4,000 minutes on Monday, has insisted he feels fine but clearly hasn’t been as sharp after the Olympics as he was before the Games. Do you urge Ersberg to take his time healing and play Bernier again and see if the youngster can get on a roll and again be a calming influence on the team, or do you go back to Quick, who has carried the team most of this season?
The answer might become clear later today. The Kings are scheduled for a 1 p.m. practice in El Segundo, and General Manager Dean Lombardi might have made some decisions by then. We'll keep you posted.
-- Helene Elliott, en route from Nashville to Southern California
Photo: Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll (28) and goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) keep Nashville Predators left wing Steve Sullivan (26) away from the net in the third period of the March 30, 2010, game in Nashville, Tenn. Credit: Mark Humphrey / Associated Press