Ah, yes. The hot takes on sports radio involving a potential goaltending controversy for the Bruins – starting when Tuukka Rask collided with Anders Bjork during Wednesday’s practice.
With Rask out for Thursday and Saturday night, backup Anton Khudobin would get the nod in his absence. And there was a reason to believe that Khudobin was capable of picking up the slack given his strong training camp and a solid finish to 2016-17 where he won six of his last seven starts following a rough stretch from October to early February.
Capable of spelling Rask when needed – especially given Tuukka’s 189 appearances over the last three seasons? Absolutely.
But capable of taking Rask’s spot as the Bruins No. 1 netminder as the Finn recovers from his concussion?
The answer is no.
This isn’t to exonerate Rask, who is 1-3-0 in his four starts (along with a 3.30 goals against average and .882 save percentage). For sure he should be better in many areas, including puck handling – as seen with his miscue in the first loss to the Avalanche that led to an easy open net tally – and getting better at crunch time. As the Bruins battle injuries in the early going, they have to rely on Rask once he returns.
Though he really didn’t intend on throwing his team under the bus in Vegas a week ago, Rask could’ve chosen his words a little better following the loss to the Golden Knights in which no Bruin looked particularly sharp.
“I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on,” Rask told reporters following the Bruins’ 3-1 setback at T-Mobile Arena last week. “I’m not going to comment any more on team play that much. We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”
Many in the media and sports radio have been sharing their two cents about Rask since he took over for Tim Thomas. We’ll save the evaluation for Rask’s next start, whenever that is.
As for Khudobin, well he got his second win against the Canucks on Thursday despite looking a bit sloppy in the B’s 6-3 triumph. It was a different story two nights later, however, during the Sabres come from behind 5-4 overtime win.
For a team playing their second game of a back to back – and coming off a loss to the Canucks the night before – the Bruins had the Sabres where they wanted them honing two three-goal leads. But then the wheels fell off as Khudobin and the B’s couldn’t answer Buffalo’s relentless attack for a period and a half.
Although he battled, Khudobin couldn’t do much to ease the pressure. Sure, he was beaten clean on a couple of shots earlier, and he was left out to dry by a patchwork Bruins D – without Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid – that struggled to get pucks out of their own end.
Khudobin didn’t help things either. He allowed a couple of soft goals, including Evander Kane’s tying marker late in the third, and his lack of controlling rebounds resulted in the Sabres retaining puck possession and sustaining second and third chances.
Not what head coach Bruce Cassidy wanted to see in the first three weeks of “next man up.”
“Erratic,” Cassidy said about Khudobin’s performance against the Sabres. “He battles. We love that about him. He battled to the end. Certainly made his share of saves. We need to be better in front of him. But there were times that, there were fires that needed to be put out that shouldn’t have been necessary. But that happens sometimes.”
It does happen sometimes, and so does a potential goaltending interference call that went against Cassidy, Khudobin and the rest of the Black and Gold on the overtime winner by Ryan O’Reilly. Clearly, there was contact from Rasmus Ristolaninen but the officials deemed that Torey Krug made contact with the Sabres blue-liner thus keeping the original call on the ice.
It should have never gotten to that point. Heck, just seconds before that, Khudobin had the opportunity to freeze the puck and get some fresh legs out for the Bruins following a long shift from Krug, Kenny Agostino, and David Pastrnak, but couldn’t keep the puck in his glove following Ristolaninen’s shot from the point.
Maybe the Bruins bounce back if Khudobin holds on to Ristolaninen’s shot. Maybe not.
Maybe the Bruins would’ve shut the door on the Sabres if Rask was in net. Maybe not.
Khudobin has a proven track record as a backup. Zane McIntyre, who was sent down to Providence on Sunday, has an unproven track record at the NHL level and is best suited for the AHL at this time.
Rask has a proven track record as a starter including his 2014 Vezina Trophy. There’s no controversy here, he’s still the Bruins’ starter.