Jonathan Bernier has experienced an atypical professional career path for a highly touted first-round pick. Selected 11th overall by Los Angeles in 2006, Bernier was seen as the Kings’ future franchise netminder. He started the Kings’ season opener in London the next year, but could not stick with the big club. Since 2009, he has served as the team’s backup. Now, at age 24, second on the depth chart behind Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick, and in the last year of his contract, Bernier may be playing his last season in Hollywood. Nevertheless, he will play an important role for however long he remains with Los Angeles. He is the team’s most valuable asset in the trade market, so it would serve the Kings well to put him in situations to succeed.
I think Bernier should get his first start of the season tonight against Nashville. Jonathan Quick has been regaining his 2011-2012 form of late, but his playing time needs to be monitored this season following his back surgery over the summer. Having a healthy Quick during the stretch run is more important than giving him every start at the beginning of the year. Moreover, the Kings have a big divisional matchup Saturday at Anaheim; it would behoove Los Angeles to have Quick prepared for that start, and let Bernier go tonight against the Predators.
Statistically, this should be an automatic coaching decision from Darryl Sutter. Bernier’s career numbers against Nashville are scintillating (6-1-0, 2.00 GAA, .930 SV%, 1 SHO), while Quick has struggled with the Predators more than any other Western Conference foe (1-4-1, 3.17 GAA, .888 SV%).
If the Kings hope to get a fair return for Bernier later on in the season as has been rumored, auditioning him in low-risk situations could only be beneficial. His past record against Nashville, combined with the need to keep Quick sharp, make it likely that we see Bernier debut tonight at STAPLES Center.