These are desperate times for the Bruins even after pulling out a solid, blue-collar 2-1 win over a sputtering Los Angeles Kings team on Thursday night.
The victory ended a four-game losing streak and gave the Bruins just their second road win of the season in eight tries. It was also the fourth win of the season for backup netminder Anton Khudobin, who is a sterling 4-0-2 and has given them everything they could possibly hope for out of the backup spot. The Bruins have a grand total of 18 points on the season and Khudobin miraculously has more than half of those (10 to be exact).
It’s clearly a far cry from last season for Khudobin, of course, when it took until February for the goalie’s season to get in gear.
But Thursday night’s 27-save effort from Khudobin was also a stunning contrast to what Tuukka Rask has been able to produce this season. Khudobin has a .928 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average. Rask has a dreadful .897 save percentage while giving them average play between the pipes at best.
Khudobin is tied for seventh in the NHL with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in save percentage and Rask is chilling in the NHL goalie statistical basement with retreads Steve Mason and James Reimer.
Quite simply, Khudobin has been way better than Rask and the Bruins have, for whatever reason, played better hockey in front of their backup goalie. Some of it might also be about Khudobin’s more adaptable game behind a Boston defense that can make things unpredictable for their goaltender, but Rask is being paid $7 million a season to be better and figure it out. It would be amazing if this trend continued for the entire season and it would certainly merit more examination from management as to why the rest of the Bruins and Rask can’t seem to combine for an effective, winning product on the ice.
For now, the Bruins need to simply win by whatever means necessary and that amounts to riding Khudobin’s hot streak for as long as it lasts. It should begin with the backup goalie getting a second consecutive start against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night and seeing where it goes from there. Perhaps the extra rest gets Rask additional time to get his game together, or serves as the kind of motivation to get the Finnish netminder into a mode where he can steal games for an undermanned, out-gunned team that needs that right now.
“We’re going to look at it,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked postgame by reporters in L.A. about his goalie for Saturday night. “He played very well against San Jose last time. They’re a heavy team. He seems to do well in these kinds of games with a lot of traffic around the net. But we’ll look at that decision [Friday].”
Khudobin has stopped 57 of 61 shots in his two games in November, so perhaps that level of hot goaltending could also allow the Bruins to survive a month that otherwise might absolutely bury their playoff hopes. Maybe Khudobin finally loses on Saturday night and the goaltending conversation, not controversy, ends as quickly as his point streak. For now, riding the hot goalie is the right call for a team that needs something good to hang onto.
The Bruins are in desperation mode until they get a number of their injured players back. There certainly might not be more of a desperate option than setting their beleaguered sights on a goalie they sent to the minors as recently as last season. But it’s a new season, Khudobin has been excellent and he’s earned a chance to carry this team for a little bit until they can get things back in order.
Calling Khudobin’s number is the right call right now for the Bruins and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult a choice given what we’ve seen so far this season.
GOLD STAR: Anton Khudobin continues his stretch of picking up points in all of his games for the Bruins as he made 27 no-nonsense saves in a straight-up, blue collar kind of hockey game between the B’s and the Kings. Perhaps even more encouraging the Bruins dominated much of the final 20 minutes while protecting a third period lead, so Khudobin was forced into making just five saves against Los Angeles in something a little less than a frenzied, frenetic between the pipes performance that we’re sometimes used to seeing out of the backup. The big period for the Russian backup was the middle 20 minutes when he was making 17 big saves and eventually improving to 4-0-2 on the season while just simply winning all the time these days.
BLACK EYE: Just one shot on net and three giveaways for Anze Kopitar in 22:08 of ice time for the Kings, who did have an assist on Drew Doughty’s power play goal in the second period during the loss. Kopitar had three giveaways in a bit of a sloppy effort taking care of the puck, and he lost 12-of-22 face-offs as well while facing off directly against his Selke Trophy winning competitor in Patrice Bergeron. Kopitar has never been really all that impressive going up against No. 37 over the years, and he hasn’t really been a killer when it comes to facing the Bruins. That sort of thing played out again for the Kings against the Bruins this season with guys like Kopitar and Doughty not quite enough against Boston.
TURNING POINT: The Bruins scored the game’s first goal in the first period, and that proved to be one of the big difference-makers in the eventual victory for the Black and Gold. Charlie McAvoy’s early goal put the Bruins on the board and forced the LA Kings to start chasing the game a little bit more in a strange sequence of events that hasn’t been the norm with the Bruins much as of late. Once McAvoy darted in after the offensive zone face-off and scored in the first, the rest was up to a Bruins team that’s managed to score the first goal of the game for just the seventh time in 18 games this season. Given the real lack of depth on the roster for the B’s due to injuries, it’s vital to take an early lead and force the Kings, or any other opponent, to respect their game plan a little bit more armed with an early lead.
HONORABLE MENTION: Charlie McAvoy was a beast for the Bruins while topping 27 minutes of ice time, scoring the game’s first goal in the first period and not depriving himself of any of the physical play over the 60-minute course of the game. It was McAvoy that took the puck in a win on an offensive zone face-off, and darted straight to the front of the net where he was able to lift a backhanded a shot past Jonathan Quick for the early goal. It was his second goal of the season, and his first score since lighting the lamp on opening night vs. Nashville. Above and beyond that McAvoy had a goal and a plus-1 rating in 27:53 of ice time, and filled out the dirty work portion of his job description with four blocked shots and four registered hits to go along with his skill contributions.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 – the alarming number of giveaways for Zdeno Chara in the win while also registering the game-winning goal in the second period amongst his 26:53 of ice time on the second night of a back-to-back game. Chara was obviously far from perfect, but he was digging deep for the win.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “No passengers. I think everybody pulled on the rope today. A lot of guys blocked shots and took hits to make plays, and that’s what it took.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN on what the difference was in Thursday night’s win over the LA Kings.