After a 2-0-0 start, goaltender Jonathan Bernier is showing why he was an important offseason pickup for the New Jersey Devils. The 33-year-old netminder has been solid through two games. Despite that Mackenzie Blackwood was placed on injured reserve retroactively on Oct. 11 (with a heel injury), he is eligible to return whenever he is ready. However, New Jersey seems to have a more reliable goaltender, as Bernier is doing exactly what he was brought in to do.
After Corey Crawford unexpectedly retired a few days before the 2020-21 season, the Devils found a replacement in Aaron Dell and Scott Wedgewood to back-up Blackwood. Before the 2021-22 season, general manager Tom Fitzgerald made it a point to get a capable goaltender to play with Blackwood. That goaltender proves to be Bernier who signed a two-year, $8.25 million contract with the Devils.
After facing every possible scenario, including 5-on-3 penalty kills, back-to-back penalty kills, and 3-on-3 overtime, Bernier has reliably kept the lead for the Devils and helped them earn their first two wins of the season.
Devils Get Dependable Goaltending in Season Opener
The biggest story from the season opener was Jack Hughes’ overtime goal and celebration. However, in his first game as a Devil, Bernier stopped 24 of 27 shots, and two of the three Chicago Blackhawks goals were scored on the power play. The third goal was off of a broken play when a Blackhawk was left wide open on Bernier’s open side. The veteran netminder continued to make big saves to prevent Chicago from taking the lead.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Bernier has only given up five rebounds, despite facing so many power-play attempts. Of 20 high-danger chances, he saved 16. Of the five goals he’s allowed, three were on the power play. If the Devils can be more disciplined, it will make Bernier’s job much easier. Bernier has only allowed rebounds on 0.036 percent of his initial saves. He has frozen the puck 14 times. He earned a hard-fought win versus the Blackhawks.
In the season opener, New Jersey took an early lead off of a Dougie Hamilton wrist shot. Although the game headed to overtime, it was only tied for 18:46, and in that time, Bernier saved nine shots. In overtime, he did not face any shots.
Bernier Helps Devils Earn First-Ever Win Against Kraken
After a three-day break, the Devils played their second game of the season on Tuesday against the Seattle Kraken. Head coach Lindy Ruff noted that Blackwood was close to returning, but would likely not be ready before next week. Luckily, the Devils have Bernier to handle the workload until he returns.
Once again, Bernier’s solid goaltending was overshadowed, this time by Dawson Mercer’s first NHL goal and Hughes’ injury (day-to-day). Bernier, looking to maintain the team’s perfect record, did not disappoint and made an impressive 27 saves on 29 shots. He also kept the Kraken from tying it up late to force overtime. According to Money Puck, he posted a .931 save percentage (SV%). On the penalty kill, he saved six of seven shots, and when the Kraken made a strong third-period push, firing nine shots to the Devils’ four, New Jersey relied heavily on their goaltender.
Bernier made key saves to keep the Kraken at bay and earn his second victory of the season. With a capable tandem, they should be able to avoid overplaying one goalie over another.
How Blackwood and Bernier Will Share the Season
Having two capable goaltenders protect a crease throughout the season is a valuable asset to any NHL team. Blackwood and Bernier should easily split the season with a 1A/1B rotation. If one gets injured, the other will be able to reliably take on the extra workload as both have done it before.
As Devils fans anxiously await Blackwood’s return, there is a sense of relief that Bernier will give the Devils a chance to win whenever he is called upon. For Blackwood, he now has a veteran to mentor him and enable him to be the best version of himself. It’s still early in the season, but Bernier has been a proven goaltender for 13 seasons now and will be heavily relied on in New Jersey.
Erica Rosenbaum is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers. She is currently attending Rutgers University and pursuing a Sports Management degree. She has run a Devils Instagram page since 2016 and previously wrote for AllNySports.