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Bernier or Reimer—who is your early-season choice in goal for the Leafs?

Two games, two wins on the road, two different goalies with impactful performances to help get the Leaf season off on the right foot. This short-term “success” of course will lead to no end of water-cooler discussion about how Carlyle should proceed—as in, does one of these guys deserve to be “number-one” or should the coach continue to rotate netminders and give them both a number of games in, say, the first quarter of the season to determine who will indeed be the ‘go-to’ goalie the rest of the way.

Carlyle’s off-stated “win and you’re in” philosophy is well documented.  At the moment, that approach poses a problem, as neither Reimer or Bernier has lost so far in this very young NHL season.  My sense is most Leaf followers are just glad we have two capable individuals at that key position and would have no issue with Carlyle giving both guys an opportunity to play a lot. While I’ve long questioned how this arrangement will work over time, for now, if both play well, I hope both will play plenty—and stay healthy.

Do you feel the same?


A few observations from the game in Philly:

  • How many times do you see one team draws seven penalties to a lone infraction against the other side? I’m not suggesting bias on the part of officials.  The Leafs play an edgy style and I don’t doubt they will draw a lot of penalties this season.  But the ratio just seems a bit off.
  • On that note, other than Raymond losing a battle along the boards on the first power play opportunity of the night for the Flyers (and he and Bolland looking a bit lost when the Flyers scored) we can’t argue with a PK unit that shut down the Flyers from that point on.
  • Bernier looked cool—and solid.  Really good, in fact.  His penalty shot save with three seconds to go in the second stanza was the lift his teammates needed after Ranger was called for his diving trip.  After Philly had scored in the dying seconds of the opening frame, a second last-second goal could have been somewhat demoralizing.
  • If the first two games are any indication, Phaneuf won’t just be blasting the puck wildly this season. On opening night, he scored on a gorgeous wrist shot.  And on Wednesday night, another Phaneuf wrist shot (much weaker, but on goal) allowed Kadri to crash the crease and Kessel to convert a rebound from the slot  That play helped change the momentum in the contest.
  • I was going to suggest that Bolland has looked a tad snakebit in his early days with the Leafs.  But before the thought fully settled in my mind and I began to think maybe he simply isn’t a finisher, he was able to redirect a neat Lupul set-up for what turned out to be the winning goal.  Kulemin deserves credit for starting the play from behind the Flyer net.
  • Ranger looks to be (understandably) working out a some kinks in his game at times after a few years away from the NHL, but he sure gives max effort.  He may well become a fan favourite in the days ahead (something not many Leaf defenseman can claim…).  I sense that fans appreciate  he has had a long road back.
  • If I saw correctly, Bolland, Lupul and Kulemin were on the ice for a key face-off in the Flyers zone with about 35 seconds to go to protect a one-goal lead, though the Leafs had a power play.  Bolland scored again to clinch the game.
  • Gunnarsson quietly played more than 25 minutes and I didn’t mention him until now.  That’s probably a good sign.

Two games, four points.  Home opener Saturday night against the hated Sens.  Where was the Leiweke parade route again?


  1. I'd like to add Franson to your list, Michael. I thought Cody was brilliant and if Nonis isn't already working on an extension for him he should be. The Leafs looked tired but they battled through. Brayden Schenn was chirping on TSN that he'd be after Phil. I'm glad to see it didn't work and wonder if that had anything to do with Lupul challenging him tonight. Nice to be at the top of the standings even if it's only a day or two. I do wish they had a game before Sat. They often play a bit flat after a rest. C.N.

    1. No question Franson has looked good early, despite his abbreviated training camp. We've all seen that he has developed a physical edge to his game, especially evident last season- and that has seemingly carried over. Leafs got two big away game behind them, and picked up valuable points. Thanks C.N.

  2. Carlyle has a history of playing goalkeeper tandems. I can see him alternating Bernier and Reimer unless one begins to show a definite superiority. In any case, isn't it refreshing to have two very capable keepers, both who are capable of stealing a win on any given night.

    I thought Lupul looked out of sync in the Montreal game and in the first two periods last night. It was only when Bolland was moved up to the second line that he seemed to catch fire and play the way we have come to expect. It looks like there may be some chemistry there.

    I have been impressed with Bozak. He has been solid on face offs (58.2%) and has been stellar on the penalty kill.

    Kulemin and McClement have both quietly provided a steady presence both as checkers and on the penalty kill (91% so far). It is the contributions from players like Bolland, Bozak, Kulemin and McClement as well as the goalies that make the Leafs tough to play against and a contender to go deep into the playoffs.

    Despite the predictions from many "experts" that the Leafs will not make the playoffs I believe that they are a very good team that will only get better. Goalkeeping, special teams and the forwards all look like strengths. There are questions on defense, especially with Ranger and Gardiner but I think in time even that will be straightened out.

    In any case a great beginning winning back to back away games in front of pumped up crowds and against two teams that most mainstream predictors have picked to finish ahead of the Leafs.

    1. Thanks Pete Cam. It's early, obviously, but the Leafs simply look like a team that knows it's pretty good and should get better. They have a nice mix of skill and grit.

      If the goaltending can be handled the way you describe and both guys play well and are happy sharing the net, then that would be a plus, for sure. We'll see how things pan out over time in our own end- for now they are doing OK, it seems. And yes, penalty-killing will be important again this season. Thanks Pete.

  3. "At the moment, that approach poses a problem, as neither Reimer or Bernier has lost so far in this very young NHL season"

    If thats a problem , I am wondering how many GMs would like that problem ;)

    Too early in the season to make a choice yet. I am going to give it 10 games. I like breaking up the season into chunks, 10, 20, 1/2, trade deadline. Tough choices for sure for RC. Do I go with Reimer who looked good or Bernier who also looked good. Sure better decision then which goalie who stunk to play next.
    If I had to choose today I would say Bernier. In Bernier's game he kept them in a game they were being greatly outplayed for good portion of it. Reimer you could say allowed Montreal to get back in the game..So Bernier up 1 .......maybe ;)

    Just like to mention the play of another player who caught my eye the last couple games.Has anyone worked for their father(in-law) before??? I have , my first job. My dad said to me, Son, you have to the first one here,work the hardest, last to leave. All eyes will be on you, show them that you have/will earn everything. Bodie is making daddy inlaw proud so far. Can he keep it up over 82??

    So some positives, now some negatives. Ranger and Gardner. Both have had rough starts one could say. I feel Ranger will settle down. Carlyle is not afraid to use him in any situation. I think around that 10 game mark when I check in , Ranger will have played himself into top 4 minutes. Kinda of dman doesn't matter the score , he could be on in last minute.
    Gardner on the other hand... Boy is he smooth and silky in their end. Our end not so much.This will put him in RC's doghouse fast. Even down a dman with Fraser out (knee), Rc basically went with 4 damn in the 3rd. I did not notice Gardner much. He was on in last 20 sec up by 2, first time I saw him in quite awhile. With Reilly ,Percy in our pipeline I can see Gardner as trade bait if he doesn't pick up his play in our end.
    Again very, very early in the season to make any kind of predictons.

    If I had to say today.Bernier will be our starter. He will either outplay and/or outhealth Reimer

    1. Good to hear from you, Tans66.

      I wholeheartedly agree it's too early to make a lot of assessments, including with the goaltending. Both guys played solidly and as you note, it's a nice "problem" to have.

      Bodie has worked hard, no question.

      Like you, I believe Ranger should be OK. I'm thinking there has to be an adjustment period for him to catch up to the speed and intensity of the league again. Gardiner plays more like an old-time rover. I assume that's not what Carlyle wants, but we'll see, I suppose. Good stuff. Thanks Tans66.

  4. Hi Michael,

    I don't think there is a problem when who ever you put in the net will yield a solid performance. It is a long season and it will play itself out. Reality is the much hyped "you win you stay in" approach only apply when you have poor goaltending and maybe the playoffs. When you consistently get good goaltending, it becomes just managing work load. That the win and in approach is really desperation thinking and the Leafs is no longer under that kind of pressure at that position. I think we folks outside the organization are making this a bigger issue than it really is.

    I watched the entire game last night and again, it was clear that without good-great goaltending, we'd have lost the game. Bernier was even better than Reimer the game before for keeping it close until the leafs began to use their speed and legs. The tide turned on that penalty shot. It was as if Philly just decided to play for a tie in regulation.


    Bernier - So strong positionally and so controlled. He gives you nothing and requires secondary efforts and skillsets to beat him. I couldn't see a single weakness in his positioning. (1st star)

    Franson - consistently the best D again in the past 2 games. Smart simple plays all night (2nd star)

    Gunnarson - Didn't notice him at all the whole night - which is for over 25 minutes of ice time tells you how effective he was.

    Fraser - Another good tough simple game. I really like this guy His Honour definitely should be proud.

    Phaneuf - Thank god for Gunner - I don't get his defensive board play, it reminds me off the 80's style of defending - unfortunately the ref don't stop the play if you hold the puck with your skates these days. He seem to hesitate with his decisions and end up losing the put on forecheck.

    Ranger - Needs to do less in order to do more. Carlyle is giving him the time to deal with it, it seems

    Gardiner - Much calmer than the game before but as result seems to have revert to the fear of making a blunder to play his game effectively - needs to balance his game out. Knowing when to rush and when not to.

    Reilly - why is he even on the team?

    Borland - the points WAS indicative of the performance (3rd star)

    Lupul, JVR, Bozak, McLement, Bodie, Ashton, Orr, - all performed as they should

    Kulimen - Much better than the first game but that holding penalty was european soccer dumb

    Kessel - a poor game by his standard. Even with his timely goal, I expected more than peripheral shots of nothing.

    Raymond - again needs to do more.

    Kadri - He did not play that poorly but was not competitively consistent. The semi benching was Brilliant tactical coaching by teaching him not to take it for granted. I suspect Kadri will be great against Ottawa.

    1. You may be right about the goaltending "situation", Lukas. We'll see.

      All good observations. On your last point, we know Carlyle is not afraid to shift guys around if they aren't working out on a given night. Kadri has done some good things in both games but has not been at his consistent best, as you note. He should be fine- and the occasional message from Carlyle will no doubt keep him focused.

      Bolland won't score every night, that's not his history. But if he can be an effective third-line (occasional second-line) guy, that's more than fine. Thanks for posting, Lukas.

  5. To echo some of the other posters, what nice dilemma to have - two goalies playing well. I'm trying to figure out why I feel Bernier has a slight edge on Reimer, even though both have played really well in their season debuts... I think it's because of Bernier's calmness and economy of movement. Man, he played beautifully last night. Much as I like Reimer, he does seem a little less sure of his positioning sometimes, and he D seems a little less sure of what he's going to do. One thing's for sure - we're going to need both goalies playing well to make it to the playoffs (and beyond), so it's a two thumbs up from me (one for each goalie) so far.
    Other notes: I get the feeling that Ranger will improve as he shakes off the time, (what is it, 4 years?) he's been away from the NHL. It feels like he should be paired with Gardiner, though - can't really explain why - but Jake's game has been subpar so far, so can't trust him with someone who's still acclimatizing to the pace. I also thought Franson/Fraser worked well, and would like to see them reunited. (Having said that, I know it's important to have all Dmen get some time playing with a variety of partners, and on both sides).
    Loved that first Bolland goal - lovely feed from Lupul. Even though Carlyle said he moved Kadri off the second line because it wasn't a good match with Lecavalier, there sure seemed to be more chemistry there once Bolland was inserted. Which would create the same problem we had with Grabbo if the move sticks.
    Did Ashton play more than two shifts?
    Early season officiating was atrocious - I hope the refs get to examine tapes like the players do.
    Loving the early season form of JvR, McClement, Bozak, Kuli, Gunnar, Dion (playing for a contract?).
    As I've said before, I like the way this year's team's mindset feels. Bolland's postgame interview, where he supports Carlyule's meriticracy idea, bodes well. Can't wait to see how Clarkson's return will up our competitive ante.

    1. Your optimism is well-founded, Gerund O'. There is something about this team (heck, we saw it emerging last season, up to and including Game 7 in Boston until the end) that feels different. There is a subtle confidence that I had not detected in previous campaigns.

      They know they're pretty good, and should only get better, as I said earlier. Thanks Gerund.

  6. Yesterday’s game illustrated for me a theme I return to every season, that hockey is an organic, as opposed to mechanistic game. As fans, we pretty much have to view hockey in a mechanical sense, as if it can be improved by getting better interchangeable parts. All we need is that big scoring center, or the shut down defenseman and everything will improve and we would be one step closer to the Promised Land. I imagine that managers and coaches often view it along these lines as well.

    Where it gets interesting though, and where managers and coaches separate themselves from the pack, is when the engineering moves into art form and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. We still have what everyone can see as missing Leaf parts, illustrated by our less than shining ratings in key areas in all of our prognostications. Yet the team still managed two key victories that looked more artful than mechanistic.

    The weaknesses last night were obvious to all, yet Carlyle seemed to have a feel for the game, including some deft moves such as declining to staple the gaff-ridden Ranger to the bench and moving Kadri down and Bolland up the line order. At the end of the day, this subtle feel for the game is why the coaches are behind the bench and we are sitting in front of the boob tube. In short, you cannot set out a design for things that unfold on the fly. You have a feel for it. The refs called a tight game which did not help the Leafs who were not moving their feet as well as they might have on more rest. The penalty kill was impressive, especially Bernier who was sharp as a tack for the full sixty minutes, but what also helped was the new formation and player movement they are employing.

    It was an interesting team victory, to say the least, and one which screams out to have Bernier start in the home opener. My gut feeling however, the gut being the place from which art derives, would not make a rational choice here. I would start Reimer on Saturday; a decision that would be in equal parts intuitive and artful in design.

    1. The 'feel' that you refer to so aptly Bobby C. is indeed a quality (among many) that separates elite coaches from the rest of us "observers"/fans. They don't have time for emotion, or for playing favourites. They feel what the game is telling and showing them. Last night's encounter in Philly was a sample of precisely that- and the examples you cite (e.g Kadri, Ranger) reinforce your point.

      No coach is above criticism, but as I have often noted here, while we, as fans, can dispute this or that, these individuals have their jobs for a reason. They bring experience, and an ability to help shape the outcome of a game through their recognition of the moment.

      I sense Reimer starts Saturday, too. Not because he was better than Bernier (he wasn't) but Carlyle will likely aim to create a sense of fairness in the competition- while still trying to win every night. Reimer has done nothing through the pre-season or Game One to "lose" the job. Thanks Bobby.

    2. As much as I enjoyed that Bernier performance, Reimer should start against Ottawa...
      8-1-1 record
      .949 save percentage
      1.69 goals against average
      three shutouts

      Hard to argue against that.

    3. Thanks for that, apollo678- now we'll see how Carlyle feels!

  7. I thought Bolland did a marvellous job last night, and Gunnarson did some fantastic work in his own zone.He is evolving into the true stay at home D a potential champion needs. Lupul also had a great game after taking a bit to get back up to speed after missing exhibition games.His A game needs to be there every night if this team is to become a contender.
    With the compressed schedule due to the Olympic break I think a Reimer/Bernier tandem could work nicely with all the back to back games. As for Saturday's opener, Reimer's great stats vs Ottawa make starting him a no-brainer.

    1. Agreed, Sean, Lupul is a key player - and influencer. If he plays like he can, others around him should be even better.

      My point re Reimer/Bernier has never been one of talent. We all know they can both play. It's my long-term concern that this 'arrangement' may not work smoothly over time. For now, and in the short term, yes, all is well. Thanks Sean!

  8. I've been off the grid for a few days here, but this is a good chance for me to catch up and recap the start of the season. For starters, I really wish I weren't so conscious of watching the goaltending as closely. We are unfortunately too aware of a situation created by Bernier's acquisition and I do believe that, as you had pointed out, the Leafs' crease will not be big enough for both long-term. I envision one of them leaving town by the end of next season, if not sooner.

    It's too soon right now to choose one over the other. I suppose if we were to rate the initial performances of both with a microscope, Bernier would score slightly higher. I don't think one game is nearly enough to make a judgment however. Both played excellent, and as I have said all along, I believe it should still be Reimer's job to lose, as he has played more than adequately for some time now.

    Just like the goalies, it wouldn't be fair to judge any of the players too much based on two games. I think several of the forwards have looked equally brilliant and invisible at times, which is not abnormal. All the fights in the first game and the seven minor penalties in the second game play a big part in this, but I'd sure like to see an effective fourth line play more than a few minutes a night. If Ashton is here to stay, and with Clarkson back eventually to move other forwards down the roster, I"d be curious to see what various fourth line incarnations can do with ten minutes of ice time.

    Like most, I have noticed Gardiner and Ranger most on defense, and of course noticing these guys is indicative of shaky play. I'm not too worried at this point though. Ranger is still catching up to NHL speed and he will. Gardiner is trying to blend his game with what Carlyle wants, and that is bound to create some nervous play on his part. I think that he is a rare talent and I hope that Carlyle learns to accept him for what he is rather than beat him down (and probably eventually trade him).

    1. It is very early and like you, I'm loathe to venture too far ahead in terms of developing strong opinions based on early-season games. We'll likely have a better sense 20 games or so in.

      The goaltending situation is fine for now. Just not sure how it plays out down the road. Two good goalies who will both want to play.

      You point on Gardiner should not be overlooked, Pete. He is an unusual talent, even for the NHL level. Can there be a "compromise" between Gardiner's hell-bent, damn the torpedoes approach and Carlyle's desire for strong positional play? Hopefully there is, because players like Gardiner are indeed hard to find. They are largely born, not developed, at least in their early years, I sense.

      That said, it would be good if Gardiner recognizes (and I'm sure he does; he's a smart player) that NHL success often starts with strong play in your own zone. It is the rare defenseman who can excel without being hard on the puck, tough in front of his own net and along the boards and solid behind his own net- not to mention not being caught up ice on a regular basis.

      There should be no need to trade such a talented guy. It's the coach's job to make this work, though yes, the player always has a role, too. Good to hear from you, thanks Pete.