Just seven games into the regular season, the Boston Bruins have started four different goaltenders due to a myriad of early injuries. The Vezina-caliber Tuukka Rask, 29, earned three wins in the first four games, posting a 1.68 goals against average and a sparkling .947 save percentage in the process.
Anton Khudobin, 30, returned for a second stint as Boston’s backup and didn’t perform as well as Rask. In the two games he started, “Dobby” allowed four goals each, taking losses against the retooled Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.
Rask is day-to-day, with his ailment being classified as a so-very-transparent lower-body injury (more than likely a left leg issue), but head coach Claude Julien told media on Wednesday that there is a chance he will suit up against the Red Wings in Detroit on Saturday. Conversely, Khudobin has been placed on the injured reserve list and will be out three weeks with an upper-body injury.
As these developments unfolded over the last week, the Bruins called rookies Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban up from Providence. McIntyre, 24, was drafted 165th overall in the sixth round of the 2010 Entry Draft and saw his first NHL minutes on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild in relief of Subban. Julien tapped McIntyre over Subban for Wednesday’s tilt against the New York Rangers after Subban, 22, allowed three goals in the first period and a half on Tuesday.There is hope that one of these two youngsters will be able to hold down the crease in Rask’s stead, but that hope is not nearly as big as it should be. Subban, the team’s first-round pick in the 2012 Entry Draft, struggled in his only prior call-up during the 2014-15 season, suffering the same fate as he did on Tuesday; he allowed three goals in 31 minutes against the St. Louis Blues on February 20 of that season, and was pulled in favor of a weary Rask.
Subban has performed above average in the past at the AHL level, but in his four appearances there this year, he has not won a game and has been pulled twice in favor of McIntyre; once on opening night after allowing three first-period goals on the first seven shots and again one week later after three goals were scored in 26 minutes.
McIntyre performed admirably in relief, stopping all 11 pucks he saw in each game. He also started in the P-Bruins’ only win of the young year, saving 20 of 21 shots. McIntyre is the University of North Dakota’s all-time leader in career goals against average (2.10) and save percentage (.926), and the former Mike Richter Award winner for the NCAA’s most outstanding Division 1 goaltender began polishing his game last season in Providence to the tune of a 14-8-6 record despite beginning the season as Subban’s backup.
In his first NHL start, McIntyre did the absolute best he could. His opening period was nothing short of excellent as he stopped all nine shots he faced, and the team in front of him even got out to a two-goal lead, which marked the first time this season that the Bruins scored first.
But it went south quickly, as the team’s energy and discipline disappeared when the puck dropped for the next period. Boston surrendered three goals in the second, two of them to a talented Rangers’ power play, and New York never looked back. McIntyre stopped 11 of 14 even-strength shots and 15 of 17(!!) power-play shots when all was said and done in the 5-2 loss to the Rangers.
So what now for the B’s netminders? Assuming Rask’s injuries don’t come back to bother him next week, management will have to decide whether Subban or McIntyre remains in Boston short-term. Both goalies still need to improve their games, but can one of the pups provide the stability and security that Khudobin has never fully provided?
The short answer is probably, but the long-term answer is no. In the upcoming three weeks of Khudobin’s absence, the Bruins will play nine games; six of them are on the road, five of them are against divisional opponents and six of them are against teams with winning records thus far. Realistically, Tuukka Rask will NOT be starting all of those nine games, so the Bruins will have to pick their spots wisely.
It is important for the future that Rask starts against the four better Atlantic teams they’ll face, which are Detroit (Saturday), Florida (November 1), Tampa Bay (November 3) and Montreal (November 8). All four of those games are on the road.
One would also hope that Rask gets the nod against the Colorado Avalanche (November 13) for the sake of spacing out his starts. That leaves McIntyre or Subban to start the day before at Arizona (November 12) as well as against the Rangers again (November 5), the lowly Buffalo Sabres (November 7) and the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets (November 10).
The Bruins could also make the curious move of going out and signing another goaltender. Given the timeframe for Khudobin’s return, adding another goalie is not the most suitable option, but the Los Angeles Kings, who are facing similar goalie issues, did this on Tuesday by bringing Anders Lindback on board for a professional tryout contract.
However, the list of viable choices starts and ends with free-agent Karri Ramo, 30, who has never been more than a timeshare for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Calgary Flames in his five scattered NHL seasons. Ramo is coming off knee surgery last season and hasn’t played on NHL ice since February 11, 2016, a game in which he was pulled and replaced by Jonas Hiller after blowing a three-goal lead. Ramo is 60-63-18 in 159 career appearances with a 2.85 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.
It sounds illogical, but it will be best for the team to demote Subban and rush Rask back with the intention of proceeding carefully. It will help the Bruins bring points home from a surprisingly crucial upcoming road trip, provide Rask enough recoup time between starts and give McIntyre the chance to get the NHL minutes he desperately needs (ditto for Subban in the AHL) and to put management at ease about their backup netminder situation.