SAN JOSE, Calif. — Ah yes, the goaltender controversy in Boston continues.
This time there’s some legitimacy to that; albeit a minor controversy.
As Bruce Cassidy confirmed yesterday, Anton Khudobin will get his second straight start between the pipes as the Bruins close out their three-game swing through California in San Jose. Not only did Khudobin look solid in a 27-save effort against the Kings on Thursday night, but the Bruins’ No. 2 netminder – still, at least for the time being – stymied the Sharks for 36 saves in a late-October start that was arguably one of his better performances since returning last season.
“We spoke to both goalies. We’re going to go back with Anton,” Cassidy told the press following Friday’s practice at the SAP Center. “Obviously a solid game last night and a good first go-around with San Jose. His numbers are good. So we’ll give him an opportunity.”
Not only does a bird’s eye view confirm that Khudobin is performing better than starter Tuukka Rask at this juncture, the stats are indicating how the two are going in opposite directions.
In six starts, Khudobin is third in even strength save percentage (among goaltenders with at least seven starts) at .941, an overall save percentage of .928 and a 2.35 goals against average. The Russian also hasn’t lost in regulation and is 4-0-2 in six starts.
Rask, on the other hand, is 3-7-2 with a 2.89 GAA and .897 save percentage and has given up three or more goals in his last five starts.
Thus, the decision to start Khudobin was quite an easy one and something that Rask completely understands.
“I would have done the same thing if I was the coach,” an honest Rask said to the media following the announcement. “Doby [Khudobin] played a heck of a game. The results have been there. I haven’t been able to get wins in the past three starts. So it’s understandable.”
“It’s always great to be playing more and more,” Khudobin said following Saturday’s morning skate. “If the coach decides to put me in the net then it’s great. If not, I’m just getting ready for the next game whenever I’m called.”
In spite of Rask’s struggles, the Bruins have a luxury that they didn’t have since Chad Johnson was the team’s No. 2 in 2013-14.
That luxury of having Khudobin, who will start in consecutive games for the second time this year – and first with a healthy Rask – as a capable backup goaltender can only be a good thing for Cassidy and company.
“It’s really been valuable for us, obviously,” Cassidy said about Khudobin’s performances. “Doby has been real good for us; real solid when we asked him. I think this the first time this year where he’s had consecutive games with Tuukka healthy, and he’s earned it. So for us, we need it, and we’re glad to have it.”
Ever since his Vezina winning season in ’13-14, Rask has become a polarizing figure among Bruins fans. Any hint of a goaltender controversy is only going to give the anti-Rask crowd more fuel for venting.
The decision to go with Khudobin for tonight’s game against the Sharks is a wise one for Cassidy. It’s their best chance to come out of California with a winning record – and also their best opportunity to earn their second straight win for the first time this season.
“Tuukka gets it – Anton has played well. We got a lot of hockey left,” Cassidy added during Friday’s press conference. “It’s not like it’s some permanent move. It’s just a gut decision we’re going with for tomorrow. Tuukka wishes his fellow goaltender well. He wants to win hockey games, he gets it. That’s pretty much the end of the story the way I look at it.”
Don’t call it a goaltending controversy, yet. But another strong night for Khudobin may give Cassidy more to ponder over in his goalie evaluation.