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Bruins 2, Kings 1: It's getting tough to take net away from Anton Khudobin

Ty Anderson
November 17, 2017 - 3:10 am

I scoffed at your early-season ‘goaltending controversy’ talk.

But in these desperate times, and after Anton Khudobin’s 27-of-28 performance helped end a four-game losing skid with a 2-1 final over the Kings on Thursday night, maybe it’s time that Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins finally decide to ride the hot hand of their backup.  

In Los Angeles on the second leg of a back-to-back that began with yet another hard luck loss in Anaheim, the Bruins jumped out to a 1-0 edge behind Charlie McAvoy’s second goal of the season while Khudobin stopped all five shots thrown his way.

As has become the case for a Bruins team that lives and dies by the heavy ebb and flow of every single contest, the second period came with a flip of the script, and with Khudobin completely peppered for 20 minutes straight. With the Bruins penalized on three different occasions in the second period, the Kings threw a heavy 18 shots on Khudobin. But somehow, it was only Drew Doughty’s power-play strike that found a way to sneak through the 31-year-old goalie, scored at the 4:33 mark in what finished as a 17-save period from No. 35. (The power-play goal against also came with Boston's top penalty-killing forward Patrice Bergeron in the box, so it basically doesn't count, according to the NHL rulebook.) 

And bolstered by monstrous defensive efforts from the Bruins -- led by top-pairing duo Zdeno Chara and McAvoy eating any and every hard minute, and with some of the team’s best team defense coming with under two minutes left in the game -- Khudobin ‘rebounded’ with stops on all five L.A. shots fired on goal in the third period.

Helped by two five-shot periods, there’s no denying that this was a manageable workload for Khudobin. But it was yet another night that saw Khudobin’s puck-tracking sound and his aggressiveness tempered properly throughout most of the game, and without the sometimes wild goalie making flurries more difficult than they needed to be.

The victory also improved Khudobin’s record to an impressive 4-0-2 out of the gate.

The obvious plus with that is that he’s found a way to secure at least one point in all six of his starts, and his .928 save percentage sits as the sixth-best mark in the NHL. Khudobin’s even-strength save percentage has been especially impressive, which at .941 after a 25-of-25 night at even-strength (he’s now stopped all but 10 of 169 even-strength shots against) is the second-best figure among goaltenders with at least seven appearances. That .941 is also a staggering .047 better than Rask’s .894 save percentage at even-strength this season.

Listen, Rask is still an all-world goaltender when he’s on his game. It’s also no secret that the 30-year-old Rask has found himself the victim of an unfortunate ‘run support’ game that makes Red Sox ace Chris Sale’s first month in town look winnable. The numbers stare you in the face, too.

With just 25 goals scored through Rask’s first 12 starts, Rask has averaged 2.08 goals of support per start. And actually, the Bruins scored just one goal in Rask’s lone early hook of the season, which came with a 18-of-22, 40-minute showing against the Avs in October, so that 25 goals is really 23 goals scored in Rask's 12 games in the crease, which dips them under two goals of support per night. That's an awfully thin margin for error if you're Rask, especially when you're talking about a roster that's regularly featured about five to six NHL newbies on a nightly basis. The Bruins also failed to score at least five goals in a game until Rask’s ninth appearance of the season.

And though it’s easy (and lazy) to blame him for where the Bruins are right now, I would be lying if I avoided saying that Rask has seemingly done little to help his own cause.

That's ignoring the obvious expectations that come with a $7 million salary, too. On seven different occasions, Rask has allowed at least three goals in a game that saw him face less than 30 shots. Wednesday in Anaheim was one of the rougher nights in that regard, with four goals surrendered on just 27 shots faced (and with some obvious bad luck goals put by him in the losing effort). But with an .897 all-situation save percentage, Rask boasts the third-worst save percentage among goalies with at least 10 appearances this year, and sits just .020 from dead last. But before you get yourself wrapped up in that stat, consider that Carey Price, a player widely regarded as the best masked man in the league, currently sits in that aforementioned dead last spot.

So, without stating the obvious, it’s worth mentioning that slow starts do happen.

It just so happens that Rask’s slow start is happening at the same time as Khudobin’s heater.

That should make Cassidy’s decision for Saturday's starter in San Jose, and with the chance for the Bruins to escape this road trip with four of a possible six points on the table, easier than imagined.

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