BOSTON (CBS) – There were many positives to take out of the Bruins’ training camp.
What really made my eyes pop out though in September was Boston’s overwhelming amount of goaltending talent, even with 2012 first-round Malcolm Subban posting a 5.27 goals-against average in his two preseason appearances.
We knew Tuukka Rask, who was rewarded for his rise through the Bruins’ organization and run to the Stanley Cup finals with an eight-year, $56 million deal, was the real deal. He didn’t disappoint during the Bruins’ tune-ups last month with a 1.16 GAA in three games. He stopped 46 of 49 shots. Imagine what this guy, now 26 years old, is going to do when the games mean something again (starting Thursday against Tampa Bay at TD Garden).
Although the Bruins knew they had one of the league’s elite in their No. 1 netminder spot, they couldn’t have been 100 percent convinced they were stocked properly behind Rask. Anton Khudobin (2.32 GAA, .920 save percentage in 2013) was the ideal backup or 1A if you will during the lockout-shortened season. His departure left free-agent signee Chad Johnson, who has 10 games of NHL experience to his name, and last year’s AHL top goaltender Niklas Svedberg to fill the void. The hope was that competition would bring out the best in both players.
Johnson, who the Bruins have watched closely over the years and pursued in the run-up to the opening of free agency, didn’t disappoint with a 2.02 GAA and a shutout in preseason action. His .885 save percentage left room for improvement, but he faced 26 shots, 15 to 20 fewer than the other Boston goaltenders.
You could argue that Svedberg even outplayed Johnson with a 1.88 GAA and .927 save percentage. Nonetheless, the Bruins decided that to start the season it made better sense to go with the 27-year-old Johnson (who requires waivers to be sent to the AHL) instead of the 24-year-old Svedberg, who is coming off his first year of playing in North America.
Johnson might be something of an unknown quantity to Bruins fans, but much like Khudobin’s brief appearances with Minnesota before he was dealt to Boston, Johnson’s performances for the New York Rangers and Phoenix make the case that he’s a guy in need of a shot to play somewhat regularly in the NHL. In those 10 NHL games, he’s posted a 1.97 GAA and .929 save percentage. Factors, including playing for teams with similar goaltending depth to the current Boston roster, have conspired against Johnson. Or at least that seems to be the case.
We won’t know if Johnson is the right man to play 20 to 30 games on Rask’s nights off until he gets in there. Bruins coach Claude Julien is fully committed to using two goaltenders to get through the 82-game grind of the regular season. There won’t be any Martin Brodeur impersonations, in terms of games played, by Rask. Johnson’s mindful of the situation and is eager to add more highlights to his first season in Boston than just being on an NHL opening-night roster for the first time.
But the best news is that if Johnson falters, the Bruins have Svedberg waiting in the wings.
Maybe down the road, the Bruins will have a backlog in goal. A scenario with Rask and his contract playing a Roberto Luongo role to Svedberg’s Cory Schneider could develop. Nothing could ever be as messy as what’s gone on in Vancouver the past couple seasons. However, there could be a controversy down the road.
For now, the Bruins are in the best possible position in terms of goaltending. Considering how important that position is to team success, they’ll deal with the fallout in the seasons ahead and relish their position of strength in 2013-14.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.