It’s been a long time since the Bruins (10-8-4) have faced a good old-fashioned goaltender controversy. Since the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, Tuukka Rask (3-8-2, 2.91 goals against average, .899 save percentage) has been basically the unquestioned No. 1 goalie in Boston. The B’s have experienced plenty of success under him including a 2013 Stanley Cup Final appearance, the best record in the NHL the following year and another playoff spot last season after a two-year absence. Anton Khudobin (7-0-2, 2.22 goals against average, .932 save percentage) is neither a promising young prospect nor a big-money free agent that needs starts, the truth is that he’s a journeyman since this is his fourth NHL club (Minnesota, Carolina and Anaheim) along with his second stop in the Hub.
As the numbers up above plainly state though, the fact remains that Khudobin has performed markedly better than Rask so far during this campaign. This hasn’t been a normal start to the season either for the B’s since they have faced an insane amount of near constant injuries and illnesses to key players such as Patrice Bergeron (5 goals, 8 assists), Brad Marchand (8 goals, 7 assists), David Krejci (3 goals, 6 assists), David Backes (1 assist), Torey Krug (3 goals, 10 assists) and Adam McQuaid (1 assist) to name more than a few. After Sunday’s 4-2 loss at TD Garden to sputtering Edmonton (9-13-2), Rask has lost his last four starts. In fact, he hadn’t been between the pipes since November 15 (a 4-2 loss at Anaheim) and his most recent win was over three weeks ago (5-3 vs. Minnesota on Nov. 6). Conversely, Khudobin has won his last four starts including a 4-3 victory on Black Friday at TD Garden vs. the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins (13-10-3).
Since Cassidy took over last Valentine’s Day, he really hasn’t faced a similar weighty issue like this with his club. Does he stick with Rask-the third highest paid goaltender in the NHL-or continue to roll with Khudobin until the career backup eventually regresses to his normal performance level? On Sunday night, the Bruins head coach wouldn’t commit yet to either guy for Wednesday’s showdown (7:30, NBC Sports Network) with mighty Tampa Bay (16-5-2)-the best team in the Eastern Conference-but he sounded downright diplomatic in his answer: “Tuukka is a world-class goaltender, he’s going to get his wins. Hopefully whoever is in there on Wednesday, we are going to get a good chance to win. We have a good hockey team coming in here, so we’ll rest for the day (on Monday) and then get back to work on Tuesday. We’ll have a better idea then.”
You don’t want to overstate the importance of what seems like an obvious decision to most outsiders but with a team that figures to be battling for every point in hopes of making the postseason again this spring, Cassidy can’t afford to choose the wrong guy in net. Khudobin has earned this at least temporary promotion while Rask tries to figure things out. Boston is not able to give away games with such a slight margin of error given their current roster limitations.