September 30, 2008
Like the Los Angeles Kings, future franchise goaltender Jonathan Bernier is a work in progress — promising but unproved, not quite ready to play with the big boys but maybe not that far away if he can absorb a few bumps without bruising his confidence.
Bernier, who made the team a year ago at 19 and was expected to contend for the starting job this season, was assigned to Manchester of the American Hockey League on Monday. An injured hip flexor had held him back, but he was pronounced fit and sent to Manchester with a mandate to play a lot and worry as little as possible. He could have a very short wait.
Also on Monday, Coach Terry Murray, undeterred by Jason LaBarbera's slow start following a seven-month layoff that included hernia surgery, designated LaBarbera as the No. 1 goalie to open the season.
"In my mind he is. In my mind he clearly should be," Murray said of LaBarbera, who has a 4.20 goals-against average and .841 save percentage in 100 minutes over two games. "I hope he grabs that ball and runs with it."
Grabbing pucks would be better, but the message is clear:
The job is LaBarbera's for now. If he can't decisively claim it, the Kings — for so long so inept at grooming young goalies — have several good alternatives and won't hesitate to use them.