Bruins 2013 Season Preview: Goaltending

Jim Rogash

So it's not news that the starter is Tuukka Rask; we've known that was going to be the case for some time now.

I'm not talking because of the Tim Thomas debacle, either; Rask has been touted as the "Bruins' goalie of the future" for quite some time now. When Thomas signed his last contract, there were many who felt it was too long; despite his ability in net, despite the fact that the Bruins seemed on the edge of a serious run at the Cup (remember, he signed not long after that playoff series against Carolina) - could the aging goaltender really last out all four years of his contract?

And would Bruins fans want him to, knowing that Rask was waiting in the wings?

Of course, we all know how the story goes - Thomas got injured the following season, leaving the lion's share of the games to Rask. 58 games, between regular season and playoffs, and Rask didn't fare too badly; through the regular season he posted a 1.97 GAA and 0.931 sv%, good for best in the league. That was also the season that the Bruins allowed the fewest goals in the league, by far.

Since then, he's been primarily overshadowed by Thomas' resurgence - Rask won 11 games in each of the last two seasons, often suffering at the hands of the Bruins' scoring woes. He suffered a groin injury last year as well, raising the question of whether or not he's durable enough to last out a whole season, but Justin Goldman from The Goalie Guild seems optimistic:

I think a highly athletic goaltender like Rask, one who is akin to relying more on his reflexes and flexibility, will actually develop better overall balance to his game because a groin injury will help him slow things down.

Like many naturally gifted reflex-based goalies, Rask has a tendency to over-amplify his movements. In some instances, he ends up in less-than-perfect positioning on rebound chances, or in scramble situations.

For him, there is such a thing as being too urgent in the crease. So when it comes to his recoveries, his post-save mechanics, or tracking pucks and staying square in frenzied situations, less is often more. When I look back at my scouting reports over the years, and when I dissect video, I come to the conclusion that sometimes he works way harder than is really necessary.

A lot of this stems from the fact that Rask has an extremely high level of natural instincts embedded deep in his game. His ability to read and react in whatever manner necessary to make the save gives him the "dazzling netminder" tag. His game is rich in that reflex-based intuition, which makes him a natural-born battler. He’s known for being extremely tough to beat down low, and some of his best saves come from making last-second reactions on re-directed or tipped shots.

To be honest, I see this sort of thing in a lot of raw-skilled Finnish goalies. They’re unbelievable "energy conductors" at first, but as their game evolves over time, they learn to better control those different bursts of energy. It happened with Pekka Rinne, it happened with Kari Lehtonen, and I believe it will happen with Rask over the next few years.

The shortened season and the fact that Rask is on a one-year bridge contract should only help him this season. He'll get the vast majority of starts; likely Anton Khudobin will see less than ten. It's a great opportunity for Rask to play himself into a better contract for next year.

Khudobin's struggles in the KHL are well-documented, but they're likely due more to his team's overall struggles and less to his own abilities. He's only won six of 26 games in the KHL this year, but has a modest 2.96 GAA and 0.912 sv%. Despite the fact that he too is in the last year of his contract, and the fact that he's openly stated that he'll consider a return to the KHL after this year, Khudobin should provide enough support to get the Bruins through this year, spelling Rask when necessary and paving the way for future backup goalies moving forward. Khudobin has been fantastic to have in the system, however it's likely this year may be the last we see of him.

Waiting In the Wings

Niklas Svedberg has been a pleasant surprise for the Bruins this year; he's gone 13-6-1 in his games as the starter for the P-Bruins. Although Michael Hutchinson was supposed to challenge for the role of A-goalie for Providence, Svedberg has vastly outplayed his Canadian counterpart. Bruins fans should feel secure in the knowledge that there is a third goalie down in Providence who could be serviceable this year if one of our NHL goalies succumbs to injury.

Looking to the future - behind Svedberg there are two names of note: Zane Gothberg and Malcolm Subban. Although neither of them will likely go pro next year or possibly even the year after, they're names to keep in the back of your mind for future seasons as the team's prime prospects.

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