The “Trade Tuukka” crowd needs to go away. It’s a tired act.
Though, in fairness, it’s the only thing making me comment on the Boston Bruins right now. There’s a lot going on in this town at the moment. The Patriots are 10-2, the Celtics are must-see TV, and things are about to heat up for the Red Sox with the Winter Meetings next week.
We expect great things from those three teams. For the Bruins, the understanding is that there have been some major injuries and there will be some more growing pains from younger players, so the expectations are being kept somewhat realistic.
But perhaps the biggest improvement for the B’s this season has come from their backup goaltender. Yes, I said “backup” goaltender, because that’s what Anton Khudobin is.
Chances are, somebody will be offended by the term “backup” here. They’ll point to Khudobin’s 7-1-2 record, his 2.53 goals-against average, and his .922 save percentage. And instead of using his solid performance to portray a more effective goaltending situation than the team had last year, they’ll turn to a struggling Tuukka Rask and call for his head. And when it’s handed to them on a black-and-gold spoked platter, they’ll bend the knee to Khudobin.
It’s borderline insane.
Rask undoubtedly deserves criticism for his slow 5-8-2 start, which includes a 2.62 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage. To this point of the season, Khudobin has been the better goaltender. Nobody can argue that.
And Rask’s $7 million cap hit also doesn’t do him any favors while being outperformed by his backup. Still, Rask has been bad for only as long as Khudobin has been good. And I mean in their careers.
In parts of nine NHL seasons, what in the world has Khudobin done to convince anyone with a functioning brain that he’s capable of being a No. 1 goaltender in this league? If he was up to the task, wouldn’t he be somewhere else?
Everyone in the league had a chance to claim Khudobin off waivers last January and make him their top dog in net. Yet, everyone passed, and he went down to AHL-Providence.
The reason that’s where Khudobin ended up is because last year, when the Bruins needed him most, he was horrible. Khudobin was 1-5-1 with a 3.06 goals-against average and an .885 save percentage when he was placed on waivers.
And I know this is a stat that I gave you several times last year while coming to Rask’s defense, but it’s worth repeating: Rask had 25 of the Bruins’ first 26 wins in 2016-17, through the month of January. That’s not because the backup goalie didn’t play. He did. And he was awful.
The Bruins even rolled out multiple backup goaltenders during that stretch, but somebody not-named-Rask didn’t pick up a win last season until Khudobin earned his first win on Dec. 1. And the Bruins still ended up in the playoffs.
Had the B’s seen any positive production whatsoever from Khudobin in the first four months of last season, they would’ve probably won the Atlantic division. Instead, they finished in third place with 95 points — eight points behind the Montreal Canadiens — and had to begin the playoffs on the road, in Ottawa.
So that brings me to my ultimate reaction to Khudobin’s early-season success. Which is, I couldn’t be happier about it.
Rask’s been too good in his career to not get back on track. He’s the NHL’s active career leader in both goals-against average (2.26) and save percentage (.922). And when he does find his game — if he hasn’t found it already with his first shutout of the season on Saturday — the Bruins will be in great shape, with two goaltenders they can rely on, instead of just one.
So instead of running Rask out of town when the backup finally does his job, try enjoying the luxury of having two trustworthy goaltenders during the regular season.
Because it could end up being the biggest difference-maker for the Bruins, come playoff time.
Listen to “The Danny Picard Show” at dannypicard.com. Follow him on Twitter @DannyPicard.