Consistent workload helps Red Wings' Jonathan Bernier raise his game
Detroit — Coach Jeff Blashill was waiting for a goaltender to go out and take hold of the net, getting the greater share of the starts.
It took most of the first quarter of the season, but it looked like Jonathan Bernier became that goaltender.
And, then, Jimmy Howard got his first start in about 10 days Saturday and saved a point for the Wings in the standings with two glorious stops late in regulation.
If Blashill can get both veteran goaltenders to play to their level and settle the position down, he’s all for it.
“I’d like both going and that’s what we’d really like to do, have both going and not rely on one guy,” Blashill said. “Now, if one guy really grabs it and separates himself from the other guy, that’s the approach we’ll take.”
At least for a week, for a period of four starts, that guy was Bernier, who started while the Wings defeated Boston and Vegas in regulation, beat Anaheim in overtime, then lost to Los Angeles in overtime.
Howard started Saturday’s shootout loss in San Jose.
For Bernier (5-4-2, 3.17 goals-against average, .892 save percentage), it was a rare opportunity since he’s been with the Wings to get four consecutive starts and get into a rhythm a No. 1 goalie enjoys.
“Your reads get a little bit easier when you play more, and you gain confidence the more you play,” said Bernier, who as a smaller goalie (6 feet, 185 pounds) relies heavily on his timing and reads. “We’ve been playing better as a team, as well, so it’s been nice.
“Just the confidence, of you go out there and you know what you’re capable of doing. For me, I know my reads are a big part of my game, so the more you play, the easier the reads are.
“You don’t have to think too much, just go out there and play.”
Blashill felt the consistent playing time helped Bernier.
“When you’re a smaller goalie you have to rely on reading the play and the more you play, the more confident you are in those reads,” Blashill said. “There’s probably a correlation for him, for the amount he plays and how his game has been.
“It’s a good thing for him. He’s worked real hard, and the one thing about Bernier and Howie, they both work hard, regardless of how the outcomes are, they both get out there and get better ever day.”
Bernier was signed as an unrestricted free agent on the first day of of free agency in July 2018, in an attempt to form a stronger goaltending combination and relieve Howard of a larger workload.
But Bernier got off to a slow start, couldn’t find any sort of consistency until late in the season, and Howard again was forced to take on a bigger workload.
Being in the organization for a second season, being more familiar in his surroundings and with teammates, has appeared to help Bernier.
“The first couple of months, every time you come in to a new team, it’s hard,” Bernier said. “No one knows who you are, even for the coaching staff it takes time to get familiar with everyone and feel comfortable for sure.”
Blashill was intent on splitting the playing time between the two early this season, and alternated Bernier and Howard through the first month of the season.
“Then it got to a spot where neither one was grabbing it (the No. 1 position),” Blashill said. “Then Bernie grabbed it for a little bit and did a good job and played a few games in a row, and Howie went in and made huge saves late in the game to keep us in ... where we had an opportunity to win the game and get us a point.”
Blashill didn’t name a starter for Tuesday’s game against Ottawa — going back to Bernier would appear to be the conventional thinking — but does seem intent to give both goaltenders time to grab hold of the position.
“If one of them separates from the other, he will play more,” Blashill said. “(But) it’s real hard in this league right now to have a one-goalie system. The games are so close, you have to be so sharp. Both goalies have to be so sharp.”
Forward Filip Zadina, the Wings’ first-round draft pick in 2018, didn’t play Saturday in Grand Rapids, leading to rampant speculation on social media of a potential trade, or injury, or any number of issues.
Blashill said Monday that Zadina was injured, but wouldn’t elaborate as to the nature of the injury.
“I did get the reports, but I don’t want to comment,” Blashill said. “He was out. He was injured.”
Zadina has been playing some of his best hockey of the season, with points in four consecutive games, and raising his totals to 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 16 games.
Senators at Red Wings
► Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Senators (8-11-1) have won six of their last 10 games and have climbed out of Eastern Conference cellar. … C Jean-Gabriel Pageau has sparked the Senators with 11 goals, and D Thomas Chabot (10 assists) is a factor.