The Bruins will face more than just the Canucks when they get to Vancouver; they'll also have to deal with the Green Men.
BRIGHTON -- It took until the Bruins were truly desperate, but Bruce Cassidy finally shook up a goaltending situation badly in need of a change.
The Bruins opted to ride the hot hand with backup Anton Khudobin and he backstopped the first two-game winning streak of the season, turning away 63 of 65 shots in victories at Los Angeles and San Jose. Khudobin has been incredibly strong out of the gate, posting a 5-0-2 record and, amazingly, leading the NHL with a .935 save percentage.
Meanwhile, $7 million man Tuukka Rask has donned the backup ball-cap on the bench and is being given extra time to try and pull his game together.
That’s the story of the season thus far for a Bruins team that hasn’t lost in regulation when Khudobin's in net and hasn’t been able to get on the same page with Rask.
Rask said he understood the situation while talking about it after Monday’s optional practice, and admitted even he would have gone with the red-hot Khudobin Saturday against the Sharks.
“[Khudobin] has played very good hockey in all of the games that he’s played," said Rask, who's 30th in the league in save percentage at .879. "You play a game (like the one Khudobin played against the Kings last Thursday), then I think it’s very reasonable he gets another start based on the way he played, and the way that we played. I had no issues with that. I said in San Jose that if I was the coach then I would have done the same thing.
"I think we’re going to share some playing time here. The way we talked about it before the year, we don’t want any goaltender to sit down for too long. So I think we’re both going to see some action.”
The sentiments sound like those of a good, selfless teammate with his eyes wide open about a situation that clearly hasn’t gone his way, But it also feels a little too even-keeled for someone who's essentially been benched for a couple of games, similar to the lack of strong, visceral emotion Rask has shown when he’s been held out of Bruins-Canadiens games because of his career-long struggles against Montrea. IIt amounts to a monumental shrug of the shoulders, and a breezy lament that the bounces haven’t gone his way.
Rask did admit his subpar numbers this season do reveal some level of struggle, but he certainly didn’t sound like a player consumed with his dreadful .897 save percentage or problematic 3-7-2 record.
“You can’t let it get into your head, and you need to see through the numbers a little bit," he said. "The numbers are numbers, and obviously there’s some truth to them. But they’re not telling the whole story. Even if you’re winning, you don’t want to look at your numbers and say 'I’m playing unbelievable’ when the team is playing unbelievable in front of you while you’re getting the wins and the low scores.
“Either way it goes you have to stay focused with your own thing and what you’re doing, and then just the results will follow. That’s the thing that I think you have to believe in. [The margin for error] has been like that all season, so I just go out there, do my thing and try to keep the team in it while knowing the results will follow.”
Khudobin didn’t practice on Monday after tweaking a lower-body issue in his 36-save performance against the Sharks, and Cassidy said he has yet to make a decision as to who'll play Wednesday in New Jersey.
“Clearly [Khudobin] has played well and we’re contemplating . . . we haven’t made any decisions yet, but that tells you we want to balance it right,” said Cassidy. “But, hey, he’s got the hot hand, so we’ll look into that a little bit more [ahead of Wednesday].”
The hope from this humble hockey writer is that Cassidy continues to ride the hot hand provided Khudobin's healthy and able to play. The Bruins have a grand total of 20 points on the season, and Khudobin has a whopping 12 of them. They need the kind of airtight goaltending they’re currently getting from Khudobin . . . and aren't getting right now from Rask.
And then perhaps we’ll start to see something a little more fiery in the emotion department from Rask, who should be intent on protecting his No. 1 starter’s job with the Bruins and pulling himself out of a “meh” start to the season. It begs the question as to what happened to the guy who infamously fired milk crates on the ice during an epic shootout tirade while he was still a minor-league goaltender in Providence.
It doesn’t have to be another meltdown, but both the Bruins and Rask need him to revert back to being the dominant franchise goaltender he used to be in order for the B’s to get where they want to go this season.
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BRIGHTON, Mass – While it’s still early in the careers of all the young Bruins rookies making their way this season, it sure looks like 22-year-old Danton Heinen is among the B’s youngsters that are here to stay. The former University of Denver standout didn’t make the cut at the end of training camp this season and he failed early last year when it was clear he wasn’t ready during an eight-game audition with the big club.
But Heinen continued to look ready while scoring a pair of goals and three points in the three games on a pivotal road trip through California last week, and is now tied for fifth on the Bruins in points despite missing four games in the AHL. In all, Heinen has four goals and 10 points along with a plus-4 rating in 15 games this season, and is on pace for a really strong 21 goals and 52 points in his first full year.
This has been a really nice step forward for Heinen after being a point-per-game player for Providence during their playoff run last spring.
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“Last year’s playoff did a lot for him. When I saw him playing there, he was a different player than when he’d left [Boston],” said Bruce Cassidy. “There was a willingness to stay in the battle and his growth when it comes to winning pucks…you’ve seen it here. A lot of the things he’s down well are his second and third efforts on the puck where last year I thought he was pushed off the puck pretty easily [at the NHL level].”
There could be a period when his offense slows down or some other part of his game drags his minutes down, but right now he looks like he’s well on his way to establishing himself in a key role with the Black and Gold. The difference has been Heinen increasing his speed and also adding a little more tenacity to the skill and offense package that he was always bringing to the table.
“I don’t want to say that because when we get our guys healthy then we’ll see where we’re at,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked if Heinen was a keeper at the NHL level at this point. “But I think he’s certainly shown he’s a much more consistent player than he was last year. He’s probably a bit ahead of the other younger guys because he has gone through a bit of it [at the pro level]. The fact that he’s been able to play in a lot of different situations, play left or right wing, and moved up in the lineup while being very effective with [Sean] Kuraly and [Tim] Schaller down in the lineup, as a coach it’s to have a guy like that who can move around and fit in a lot of different places.
“So he’s certainly helped himself [to stay in the NHL]. I think it’s too early to say if he’s here for good, but I don’t envision him leaving [Boston] anytime soon with the way that he’s played.”
Only time and consistently good play will allow the playmaking Heinen to truly lock up his spot on the NHL roster, but it’s increasingly difficult to envision any scenario where the fifth-round pick isn’t playing an increasingly important role for the Bruins.