NASHVILLE - Four starts into the season, there aren't many goalies playing better than the Toronto Maple Leafs' Jonathan Bernier.
Acquired in June from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens and a 2014 second-round pick, Bernier picked up his first shutout with the Leafs on Thursday, a 4-0 win over the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena.
Bernier improved his goals-against average to 0.85 and his save percentage to .974 with the shutout victory.
Yet, for whatever reason -- maybe it's because he enjoys the verbal jousting with the media so much -- Toronto coach Randy Carlyle has not declared Bernier his No. 1 over James Reimer.
Carlyle was asked about his comments earlier this season about wanting one of the goalies to grab the No. 1 job through his play.
"We knew you'd ask that question because you guys are just waiting to anoint someone as the No. 1 goalie," Carlyle said, "but it's kind of early, guys."
Bernier, whose career record against Nashville now stands at 8-1-0, stopped 36 shots for his seventh career shutout and second against the Predators. His season record stands at 3-1-0.
Dating from his time with the Kings, Bernier entered with a 1.88 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in his career against the Predators. Bernier simply shrugged when asked to explain his record against Nashville.
"Just, I guess, I feel pretty good playing against that team," he said. "It's a matter of luck a little bit and guys are playing well in front of me and find a way to win."
On more than one power play, Nashville's Shea Weber teed up his trademark slap shot, one of the hardest in the NHL, but Bernier refused to yield a rebound -- a key to keeping Nashville off the board in the game.
"Get hit in the chest," Bernier responded when asked how he prevents rebounds. "Just be in good position and read off your D-man, I think. That's one thing I'm trying to teach them. The way I like to play is take away the far side and I'll take care of the short side. That makes a big difference because most of the time I'll get it in my chest."
Toronto, powered offensively by Phil Kessel's three-point night, improved to 4-1. Nashville, which went 0-for-3 on the power play, fell to 1-3.
In four games, the Predators, who tied as the League's lowest-scoring team last season, have scored two, one, three and zero goals in each.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said his team has played well but it needs to start scoring -- and winning. Nashville outshot Toronto 36-26 despite yielding a major power play late in the game.
"I can tell you overall we played pretty decent, but bottom line, we didn't win a hockey game and we need to win hockey games," Trotz said, "because we've got a good five-game homestand right here. We've got to make some points up here, because I know in November we're gone for 17 straight days, and there's not an easy game in this League."
Kessel and James van Riemsdyk combined for Toronto's first two goals, which came after the Leafs were outplayed for much of the game's first 33 minutes.
Toronto took a 1-0 lead on its ninth shot with 6:19 left in the second when van Riemsdyk beat Predators defenseman Seth Jones to a puck in the corner off a faceoff in Nashville's zone and Kessel one-timed van Riemsdyk's goal-mouth pass past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.
Trotz called the play a rookie mistake by Jones, saying Jones had to win the puck, move it along to his partner Weber and get it cleared out of the zone.
The Leafs went up 2-0 with nine seconds left in the second period when Kessel blazed down the right wing and ripped a shot off the near post. Rinne tried to freeze the rebound, but van Riemsdyk poked it away before Rinne could glove it. Van Riemsdyk carried the puck behind the goal and backhanded it into the empty net.
Van Riemsdyk said he did not think Rinne (22 saves) saw him coming but credited the new, shallower nets for the goal.
"I think that's where the shorter nets come into play, so I think if you ask my opinion on them now, I think they're a pretty good part of the game," van Riemsdyk said. "I think that definitely helped me be able to get out quicker and be able to stuff it because (Rinne) is pretty quick to get back in the net."
With 6:42 left in regulation, Nashville's Mike Fisher received a major penalty and game misconduct for boarding after he sent former Predators defenseman Cody Franson, Fisher's former teammate, face-first into the glass. Franson bled profusely, leaving a large puddle of blood on the ice that had to be cleared before play could resume.
"He hit his head on the rounded glass, and it was actually his visor that cut his nose," Carlyle said, "so it came down and cut him on the bridge of the nose and, bloody nose, so that was all of the information that we got."
Fisher said it was "just a hockey play" and was hopeful that Franson was not injured too badly.
Franson finished the night plus-2 in 18:46 of time on ice. He did not return after the hit.
"There was obviously no intent at all and very surprised to get a penalty," Fisher said. "I didn't feel like it was a penalty. It cost the team, which is unfortunate. Obviously, I was pretty fired up after they called it."
Toronto converted twice on that power play. Tyler Bozak scored with 3:42 left in regulation during that power play, converting a feed from Kessel high in the zone that bounced in off Jones.
Forty-one seconds later, Joffrey Lupul redirected Jake Gardiner's point shot for his third goal of the season.
With 26.8 seconds left in regulation, Toronto's Carl Gunnarsson was awarded a penalty shot when Craig Smith fouled him from behind but Gunnarsson shot wide on Rinne.
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