Like most NHL goaltenders taken in the first round of the entry draft, Jonathan Bernier had immediate expectations thrust upon him—especially for a franchise who hasn't really had a good goalie since the turn of the century in Felix Potvin and Roman Cechmanek.
But sometimes these expectations can really take a toll on these goalies. Sometimes when a rookie goalie comes in and wins a few games immense pressure will be placed upon them—pressure they just can't handle.
Exhibit A, Carey Price
The Habs were struggling with goaltending—enter Carey Price. Price came in from the AHL in the '07-'08 season and played outstanding. Outstanding enough to be compared to the next Patrick Roy. No doubt, these comparisons put immense pressure on a rookie goaltender at the tender age of 20.
At first there was really no difference in his game as he led the Canadiens to a surprising first seed in the Eastern Conference. After beating rival Boston in seven games the Habs fell to the Flyers 4-1 in the second round of the playoffs.
Next season and this current season (to an extent) Price has shown a great decrease in his game—which can be accredited to the pressure that was put on him.
Last year the Habs were down 3-0 in a series against rival Boston again, and down 4-1 in the game in the second period. The hometown fans sarcastically cheered Price as he made a save and he waved, both arms up, to the fans.
The pressure cooker that is Montreal was getting to him.
Not to take anything away from Price right now though, he does steal the odd game for the Habs—but right now Halak is the better goaltender and finally Halak has been getting the credit he deserves. Prices' stats haven't been horrible the past two years, but he hasn't been getting the wins—Halak has.
The Habs would continually play Price even after he played a horrible game. Game after game he would get the start while Halak would watch from the bench, but this season Halak has gotten the chance to prove himself, and prove himself he has.
Exhibit B, Marc-Andre Fleury (early career)
Fleury was drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He was immediately tested in the NHL, but he posted horrible numbers and his play was even worse.
But who could blame him? The Penguins were horrible that year, they could have had a brick wall between the pipes and still finished dead last in the NHL. Fleury was eventually assigned back to the QMJHL.
After spending a year in the AHL Fleury was back for the '05/'06 NHL season. But alas his play didn't improve. Night in and night out Fleury was getting peppered with shots with a horrible Penguins team in front of him. Needless to say this wasn't good for Fleury's confidence.
An injury and a toss of the mustard pads late 2007-08 season signalled Fleury's coming out party. After that he started playing like a first overall pick should, and he has a ring to prove it.
Another factor in Fleury's situation was competition. After his injury Ty Conklin emerged as a legitimate threat to Fleury's starting job.
The rest they say, is history.
To the Point: Jonathan Bernier
The Kings have done excellent letting Bernier develop. Last season when the Kings called up Quick instead of Bernier to replace an injured Erik Ersberg, Bernier was rattled. Because of this, Beriners numbers took a hit and his play declined.
But then he sort of had an epiphany. He said himself he realized he'll get his chance one day, all he can do is play his heart out and have some fun playing hockey.
That mentality has done wonders for his career.
Through 50 AHL games, Bernier has a 2.08 GAA (3rd in the AHL) and a 0.937 SV% (tops in the AHL, second has a SV% of 0.927).
On Friday, March 12 Bernier got some NHL action as Quick was with his wife as his first child was being born. Bernier stopped 29 of 30 shots and blanked the stars in the shootout to earn the win.
"I was nervous at first. Only one practice, so I didn't know the timing and stuff," Bernier said. "I felt better when the game was going on, in the second, and I felt much better in the third."
If he was feeling nervous Friday, other teams are going to hate seeing a comfortable Bernier.
There is no telling when Bernier will get a real chance at the NHL (if I was a betting man I'd say he starts 30ish games next season). But when he does, other teams better watch out, because the future two headed monster that will be Quick and Bernier will be dangerous—Stanley Cup contending dangerous.
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