January 9th, 2013 by

2013 season preview: Boston Bruins goaltenders

Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins Goalies, Hockey, NHL Goalies

(Getty Images) Whether or not Thomas returns this season will always remain a mystery, but in the end, it will be Rask who has the last laugh.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we here at Bruins Daily will be getting you ready with everything you need to know for the 2013 National Hockey League season. Today, we take a look at the Bruins’ group of goaltenders.

Unlike season’s past, plenty of question marks lurk between the pipes this season for the black-and-gold. By now, everyone is familiar with the course of events surrounding the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner, but the loss of Tim Thomas shouldn’t be overlooked. The headaches that accompanied Timmy during his stay in The Hub of Hockey makes it easy to forget exactly what he meant to the Bruins. Bottom line: you knew the unorthodox net minder was coming to the rink to compete at his highest level.

It’s not a matter of thinking that Tuukka Rask is incapable of handling the starting netminder duties, as it is valuing how dominant Thomas’ reign was over the last two seasons. Over those last two regular seasons, Thomas was 70-30-10 with a goals-against-average of 2.18 and a save-percentage of .929%, including 14 shutouts. In addition to a dominant regular season, Thomas posted a combined playoff record of 19-13 with a 2.06 GAA and a .932 SV%, including five shutouts.

Last season, the Bruins ranked second in the Eastern Conference in goals allowed/game and sixth in the NHL overall, mostly behind Thomas’ efforts. Proceeding an exhausting 2010-2011 Stanley Cup campaign, Thomas appeared in 59 games, earning a record of  35-19-1 with a 2.36 GAA and a .920 SV%, including five shutouts. Forgotten during the course of last season was the respectable season backup goalie Tuukka Rask endured prior to getting hurt towards the end of the season. For the majority of last season, Rask was the beneficiary of low goal support, but still managed a solid season by going 11-8-3 with a 2.05 GAA and a .929 SV%, including three shutouts.

When camp opens up this weekend (most likely Sunday), there necessarily won’t be any goaltender roster spots open, but certain jobs can be won or lost during camp and throughout the AHL regular season in Providence. For example, injuries are expected to occur more frequently than not this season, meaning you’ll see more Providence faces than ever before.

With Rask cemented in as the starting goalie this season and Anton Khudobin as the backup, the battle will be who receives the first promotion to the big club. All signs point to 23-year-old Swedish prospect, Niklas Svedberg, who Boston signed on May 29, 2012 to an entry level deal. Prior to joining Providence in 2012, Svedberg dominated the Swedish Elitserien league playoffs, (11-1, 1.70 GAA, .947 SV%, 4 SO) en route to the championship Le Mat trophy. In his first year playing in North America, “The Godfather” is 13-6-1 with a 2.45 GAA and .921 SV%, including a shutout. Svedberg’s backup, Michael Hutchinson, is 4-7-1 with a 2.75 GAA and a .895 SV% at Providence this season, remaining the likely Cinderella candidate for a promotion to Causeway Street.

Following the 2009-2010 season which saw Rask become the starting goalie, including totals of 22-12-5, 1.97 GAA, .931 SV%, Bruins fans were anticipating GM Peter Chiarelli trading away Thomas in the off season and…well you already know the rest. Heading into this season, the only question mark surrounding the Bruins goaltending situation is whether or not Tuukka can stay healthy.

There’s no hiding from the fact that groin injuries and Rask are starting to become synonymous with each other. Last March, Rask suffered a groin/abdomen injury that sidelined the Finnish sensation until Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Washington. As the NHL Lockout carried on this season, Rask jumped overseas to play for HC Plzen of the Czech League, but was removed from a game due to a “mild groin injury.” Even though Rask bounced back from the injury shortly after, you have to wonder whether the injury is really a minor issue or whether this is a sign of things to come. Besides the injury hiccup, #40 went 6-2 during his short stint with HC, with a 1.85 GAA, and a .936 SV%.

Also expected to see a fair share of time in net this season is Khudobin who has quietly posted solid numbers at every level. Overall, Khudobin has appeared in seven career NHL games, going 5-1 with a 1.15 GAA and a .966 SV% in his short stints. In one career start for the B’s last season, the former 7th-round-selection of the Wild turned away 44-shots, en route to a 3-1 Bruins victory in Ottawa. Last season in Providence, the Kazakhstan-bred net minder appeared in 44 games, going 21-19-3 with a 2.61 GAA and .919 SV%, including two shutouts. During the lockout, Khudobin played for Moscow Oblast Atlant of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and regressed by posting totals of 6-14-1 with a 2.96 GAA and a .912 SV%. If anyone is happy to be in Boston this season, it’s Khudobin, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season after signing a two-year, two-way, contract extension last off season.

Thomas may be bunkered down in the Rocky Mountains, but the combination of Rask and Khudobin is skillful enough to simply get the job done in Julien’s defensive-minded system, especially during a shortened season. As we’ve constantly stated, injuries are surely expected, but over the last two years, Chiarelli has compiled enough depth at the goaltender position to avoid being susceptible if an injury were to arise with Rask and/or Khudobin.

Without knowing how condensed the NHL schedule will be this season, it’s tough to judge how Claude Julien will handle relegating goaltending starts, but one should expect about a 65/35 split between the two, barring injuries.

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