Bruins

Bruins need to ride Khudobin's hot hand until Rask rights himself

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Bruins need to ride Khudobin's hot hand until Rask rights himself

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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Sweeney on Kovalchuk: 'We feel we're a team he has strong interest in'

Sweeney on Kovalchuk: 'We feel we're a team he has strong interest in'

DALLAS – The Bruins are officially interested in 35-year-old free agent winger Ilya Kovalchuk, and have held extensive enough discussions with the Russian star’s camp to discuss what kind of role he’d be expected to play with the Black and Gold. It sounded like the B’s haven’t made any hard offers to Kovalchuk’s camp at this point in the proceedings, but they are very clearly interested in a right winger that could fit in very nicely as a game-breaking scorer with David Krejci on their second line.

Don Sweeney said there aren’t any timelines or face-to-face meetings set up with the winger at this point, but the interest remains high from Boston if Kovalchuk decides to pursue things with the Black and Gold. 

“We’ve spoken to their camp. We have not met with them in person, but we’ve spoken and had numerous conversations with his representatives about where they’re at. We feel we’re a team he has strong interest in and we’ll see where it goes between now and however long he takes to make his decision,” said Sweeney of the Kovalchuk pursuit. “We’re in a position to explore it. We talked very specifically about our roster with him and where we see him fitting in, and what he brings to the table. We’ll be excited to continue to explore, but I don’t know necessarily where it goes. 

“The scoring potential, the size and strength [are all positives]. It is five years removed from the NHL [for Kovalchuk] and a lot has changed in those five years if you think about what’s transpired in the league. But I think he’ll be fine. He’s played in big stages and been very successful. He’s a unique talent and fits into a slot that we could hopefully utilize if it comes to fruition.”

It certainly sounds like Kovalchuk is still weighing the pros and cons of free agent NHL suitors like the Bruins, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights among others, and determining which teams could put him in the best position to succeed and compete for a Cup. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder certainly may not be the guy that last scored 37 goals and 83 points for the New Jersey Devils in his final full NHL season, but Kovalchuk still topped 30 goals and 60 points in 53 KHL games last season in addition to winning a gold medal for Team Russia. 

It’s expected that Kovalchuk wouldn’t be looking for a long-term deal at this point in his career, and something in the two-year, $12 million range would be a fair offer for a player looking to reestablish himself after bolting from the NHL five years ago. The Bruins are also keeping the door open for 33-year-old Rick Nash after giving up a boatload of assets to the Rangers for him at the trade deadline, but it’s pretty clear at this point that Nash is the B’s backup plan.

With that in mind, it sure feels like Nash is headed for free agency on July 1 after underwhelming in his two-month stint (six goals and a minus-11 in 23 regular season and playoff games) with the Bruins following the trade deadline. 

“We continue to talk to Rick, and he’s going to continue to take some time to make the decision that he wants to make,” said Sweeney. “Time is on his side. He gets to make that [decision] into looking at that. Obviously, we close the door [on Nash talks] if we were fortunate enough to sign Ilya, but you’re kind of jockeying simultaneously. He will have options [in free agency] as well.”  

If the Bruins miss out on Kovalchuk and Nash while looking to fill that second line goal-scoring winger, it remains to be seen what exactly they’re going to do to find some of that scoring depth they sorely needed in the postseason.

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Sweeney admits B's not picking in first round will be 'painful'

Sweeney admits B's not picking in first round will be 'painful'

DALLAS – With the first round of the NHL Draft less than 24 hours away, it’s looking like the Bruins aren’t going to find their way back into the first round after dealing the 26th overall pick to the New York Rangers for Rick Nash at the trade deadline. While it was clearly an understandable move at the time for a player in Nash that seemed like he’d be a great fit for the Bruins, it obviously didn’t work out that way with the 33-year-old power forward struggling to consistently finish off plays while dealing with a concussion just before the postseason.

With hindsight being 20/20 and the Bruins without a pick on Friday night at the American Airlines Center, Don Sweeney admitted it will be a “painful” exercise watching the other NHL teams select the top 31 players among the 2018 draft class. 

“This is buyer’s remorse right now in terms of where we sit not having a first-round pick,” admitted Sweeney. “Walking in there tomorrow night [for the first round] is painful. We’ve spent a lot of time with our amateur scouts over the last two days that we’ve been here tightening up the list from top to bottom. 

“You feel badly that these guys have covered a lot of ground [to scout players], and I mentioned that the deadline. We took a swing. I don’t feel badly for taking a swing given where our team was, but it didn’t work out. There are probably seven by my count [that traded first-round picks] and only one team won…and they didn’t give it up. We still think there will be a very good player at No. 57 and we’ve improved our position in the third round.” 

Clearly, it’s a totally different space for Sweeney than his first few years running drafts in Boston where the reloading B’s had a bevy of first and second round picks and stocked up a prospect cupboard with talented young players that are now filtering through their system. 

Barring any last minute trades, the Bruins won’t be picking until the 57th overall choice in the second round and will obviously be much busier on Saturday morning’s second day of the draft in Dallas when they make all their selections.   

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