By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Five years and three months since he was drafted 24th overall by the Bruins, goaltender Malcolm Subban won over the TD Garden crowd on Monday.
About eight minutes into the third period, with the Bruins clinging to a 4-2 lead, Subban made a sequence of stops that showed off everything former general manager Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins’ brass saw in Subban on draft day 2012.
He made a right-pad save in near full butterfly position on Chicago defenseman Erik Gustafsson. Then a scramble ensued, producing two point-blank chances by forward Ryan Hartman. Each shot was turned away by the alert Subban, who was showered with a chant of “Suuuu …” reminiscent of the familiar “Tuuuuk …” that has filled the Garden most nights since 2013.
“Yeah, it felt good, I’m not going to lie,” Subban said. “It felt pretty good. But I just try to stay focused. Obviously, it was still early in the third period.”
It was only a preseason game (that the Bruins won 4-2) but it was at least a tiny dose of redemption for the 23-year-old, who has developed ever so slowly. Heading into this season, Subban has two games of NHL experience and a .727 save percentage in those two games. His only other Garden appearance on Oct. 25, 2016 ended early after he gave up three goals on 16 shots in a little more than 30 minutes of action.
Now the wondering can begin – will Subban play another game at the Garden in Bruins gear? We already know he’s unlikely to play again in the preseason. Coach Bruce Cassidy revealed Tuukka Rask is scheduled to start Thursday in Philadelphia and Anton Khudobin on Saturday in Chicago in the preseason finale. As for Subban, there’s an “outside shot” he’ll play some more, Cassidy said.
In a way, Subban (who re-signed with the Bruins on a two-year, two-way, $650,000 deal as a restricted free agent in the summer) didn’t do Boston any favors by producing his first NHL-caliber period in an NHL uniform. Subban is no longer waiver exempt, meaning that to assign him to Providence of the AHL they have to offer him up to the other 30 NHL teams for nothing.
While the Bruins have more young forwards and defensemen who have played exceptionally well this training camp than they can carry on their roster, the goaltending situation seemed pretty clear-cut. Zane McIntyre was cut Sunday, Khudobin made 20 saves on 22 shots in his one preseason start and Subban had allowed three goals on 18 shots through two appearances. Subban allowed two goals on 12 shots in the first two periods against the Blackhawks. Another dud of a game and the Bruins could’ve breathed easy putting Subban through waivers.
But then came his 14-save shutout in the third period, and suddenly, you had to wonder how much his value rose in the eyes of teams that might want to give Subban’s long-rumored potential a try in their system if they can get him for free.
Minutes after Cassidy said he was “very pleased” with Subban’s play, he confirmed what everyone figured when asked about keeping three goaltenders: “I doubt it.”
Of course, this all could be putting way too much value in one period of play in a preseason game against a Blackhawks “C Squad.” Scouts in attendance at the Garden have seen Subban play for years in the AHL. The Bruins have seen him at all levels, in all situations, in games and in practices. The talk is always about the athleticism and the discipline to not flail around. Subban’s getting better at staying calm because he knows it’s his only shot at making the NHL as a regular.
“It would be harder if I didn’t feel good doing it,” he said. “But I feel good doing it. And they’re right, the best goaltenders are calm. Look at [Columbus goaltender Sergei] Bobrovsky, how much he’s changed and he’s become one of the best goaltenders in the league. All the best goaltenders are calm.”
After watching Subban in the third period Monday, the Bruins’ brass may be a little less calm. They’ve put in a lot of time to get Subban to this point, to the cusp of being an NHL-caliber goaltender, and there’s still some work to do. Another team could have a chance to put the finishing touches on Subban’s game and they’d reap the benefits of the Bruins’ development process.
Right now it’s unknown where the next chant of “Suuuu …” will come from.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.