Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin is currently leading race for backup job

Ty Anderson
September 22, 2017 - 3:27 pm

It was just a few months ago that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney essentially welcomed the idea of a competition for the B’s backup job, putting Anton Khudobin’s NHL role in jeopardy should Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban prove ready.

That seemed to be news to the 31-year-old Khudobin.

“To be honest, I never heard anything about it,” Khudobin, who split time between Boston and Providence last season after clearing waivers, said after his first preseason start this past Tuesday. “I never read anything, news, I try to stay out of hockey as long as possible. I mean, I practice there, but I try to stay out of media and news or whatever, and try to reset my head, reset my whole body and get ready, get in shape and whatever. I just focus on that. Enjoy my family, enjoy my friends, enjoy my hometown, homeland, and that’s what I did. But thanks for letting me know.”

But with a strong finish under Bruce Cassidy last year, and with a 20-of-22 winning effort in his preseason debut, it doesn’t seem that Khudobin has much to worry about when it comes to the beginning of his season. Or more specifically where it will begin.

“Anton has done nothing to lose that [NHL] backup [job] as of right now,” Cassidy admitted following Friday’s two-session practice at Warrior Ice Arena.

“Dobby I thought played well in his game. He had that one unfortunate goal, but I thought he was rock solid the rest of the game,” Cassidy continued. “He came in in very good shape. He’s practiced well, and he has the leg-up on guys because of his experience, and you knew that going in, but he’s going to be pushed now that [McIntyre] is getting in games, and so is [Subban]. Right now, they all look good.”

Behind Khudobin, McIntyre stands with an 8-of-8 showing in his lone, 27-minute appearance of the preseason, successfully holding down the fort in a 3-2 win over the Canadiens in Quebec City last Monday. Then Subban, a 2012 first-round pick seemingly starting from square one of his development, is behind him, with stops on 15 of the 17 shots thrown his way in that game against the Habs. And while Subban’s struggles are obvious and have stared him in the face since that first (disastrous) start against the Blues back in 2015, Cassidy is becoming a fan of his willingness to battle.

“They’ve coached that into him now to be more in control,” Cassidy said of Subban.

That showed when the Bruins fought back to make it a 2-2 game after being down 2-0 in the second period, and saw Subban come with a big stop on a breakaway coming his way to keep the game even, not completely suck all the momentum that the Black and Gold had generated out of the game. It could also go a long way in proving that he can still find ways to rebound from his goals against, which has seemingly been his biggest issue when it comes to making that next jump to the NHL, evident by two, three-goal second periods that have led to early hooks in both of his NHL starts.

“That’s what he needs to do,” Cassidy said of Subban’s big stop. “That’s the other part of his growth and maturity is putting goals behind him. It’s the old pitcher, cornerback mentality. When you get beat, you gotta refocus and get ready to make the next save, and that’s what we liked about Malcolm. That was the biggest part of the game.”

And while it’s just three games, sure, there’s been big stops from every masked man.

It’s not the worst problem for the Bruins to have, and Cassidy will be the first to admit that. Especially after it emerged as their biggest problem a year ago on the way to Cassidy replacing Claude Julien as the team’s head coach (B’s backups were 1-10-2 with an .871 save percentage under Julien last season, for whatever reason).

Not only does it help Cassidy, too, but finding a reliable and dependable backup netminder helps Tuukka Rask get the necessary breather for him to be the impact goaltender the Bruins pay him $7 million per season to be. And finding that goalie for Rask is certainly at the top of the B’s must-have list when this preseason comes to a close. That’s because it’s essentially been confirmed by Cassidy that Rask, who had offseason sports hernia surgery, is not a goaltender built for 60-plus starts in a season, and that the B’s needed to find a guy capable of shouldering those other 20-to-25 starts.

And for now, Khudobin, who finished the year 6-1-0 with a .922 save percentage under Cassidy a season ago, remains that guy. And with options behind him looking capable.

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