One of the worst units in the NHL this season, without a doubt, is the Boston Bruins backup goaltenders. It is part of the reason why Claude Julien got fired and a sneaky factor into how the Bruins missed the playoffs the last two years. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the numbers.
Tuukka Rask is the top goalie for the Bruins. He started the first game of the season, a Bruins 6-3 win at Columbus (seriously). Rask would start the season by winning his first six starts and ten of his first 11 starts (again, seriously), culminating in a 2-0 shutout of the Avalanche in Colorado on November 13th. Rask though battled injuries through that time and the backups were handed a slightly heavier work load than normal. Rask eventually went 10-1 in his first 11 starts, but the Bruins went 10-6 in their first 16 games. For those of you that are not math majors, that means the backups went 0-5 in their first five starts. This was not an aberration.
The Bruins completed the first two months of the season (through November) with a 12-10-1 record. Rask? He went 12-4-1. Yes, Bruins backup goalies did not win a single game through the first two months of the season.
Anton Khudobin snapped that atrocious streak when he was between the pipes against his former team, the Carolina Hurricanes, for a 2-1 shootout victory on December 1st. Khudobin would follow that up by losing his next three starts, dealing with his own physical ailments, getting put on waivers, and eventually end up in Providence. Rask and Khudobin were the only Bruins goalies to make starts in December, which is another way of saying, the only wins for the Bruins came with Rask in net.
However, not all of the blame can be put on the shoulders of Anton Khudobin.
Zane McIntyre, who has YET TO LOSE A GAME IN REGULATION IN THE AHL THIS SEASON, is winless in five starts with the Big Boy Bruins (0-4-1) while Malcolm Subban is a great goaltender who turns into a sieve whenever he gets a chance in the NHL (Subban has made two career NHL starts and has been pulled in each: three goals allowed in each start, 31 minutes played in each start, a 5.82 career goals against average and an almost impossible .727 career save percentage, which is also an improvement upon his start from last year).
McIntyre and Subban are good goalies. In fact, the duo has a chance to be great, but for some reason, when NHL caliber goalies are inserted behind Tuukka Rask something goes horribly wrong.
Rask played all but two of the games for the Bruins in January while McIntyre went winless. McIntyre took the loss in Julien’s final game on February 4th when the Bruins stumbled in a barn burner 6-5 against the Leafs in Boston.
Enter Bruce Cassidy.
Everybody knows the Bruins won their first four games under Cassidy. However, what got seemingly overlooked at the time was Khudobin’s contribution in game No. 2 of that streak; a 4-3 win at home against the Canucks. Khudobin made 29 saves in victory, out-performing Ryan Miller who made just 26 for Vancouver. That of course was just the second backup goalie win for the Bruins all season and it came in just the second game of the new regime.
Rask would bolster the Bruins in net for the next three games (two wins and a loss) before Khudobin spelled him for a crucial matinee game against the always difficult L.A. Kings.
The Kings play the type of hard hitting style that usually gets the most out of the Bruins. That matinee affair was no different as the Bruins, and most importantly Khudobin, thrived… but not at first. Khudobin was leaky in the first period; allowing shaky rebounds, mostly in front of the crease or out towards the circles. After giving up a first period goal though, Khudobin settled down and put together one of, if not the, best performances of his season.
The Bruins backup made numerous extra difficult saves in the second period when things were in the balance. His stonewall impression in the middle stanza buoyed the Bruins into a third frame where they surrendered just two scoring opportunities en route to a 4-1 win. He stopped 27 of 28 shots for a .964 save percentage and was awarded the second star of the night.
Yes, the final score of 4-1 made it seem like a blowout, but the Bs piled on two empty net goals. The Black & Gold needed everything Khudobin could provide and he provided enough for the win. That is what the Bruins need going forward. They need everybody on the roster to do anything and everything they can to pull out wins.
Good wins and bad wins, beautiful wins and ugly wins. It does not matter. A win is the bottom line for the Bs right now. After the backups started the season by going 1-12-1, Anton Khudobin has two wins in his last two starts and has provided the Bruins with three things they value more than anything else at the moment: rest for Tuukka Rask, dependable backup goaltending, and a winning formula. If Khudobin, Bruce Cassidy, and the rest of the Bruins can continue wrangling out victories, they will do something they have not accomplished in two years, and the one thing that will ensure plenty of rest for the backups… that of course, is make the playoffs.