By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bruins goaltender Anton Khudobin is accumulating wins and standings points, and in turn, he’s getting more playing time.
The postgame phone calls and Skype calls with his father Valeri from Siberia, however, remain the same.
“He’s totally fine. He knows what I’m capable of,” Khudobin said about his father after an optional practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Monday. “He’s happy that I’m playing right now and we’re getting the right results. And … he always talks to me after the game – like what was wrong, what was right, what was bad. And we just go over the game.”
The tradition of Anton and Valeri Khudobin, who played some defense in his younger day, chatting long-distance after every game goes back years, and even includes games when Anton was nothing more than operator of the bench door. The elder Khudobin is emotionally invested in the fortunes of his son’s teams, even when his son doesn’t start in goal, and that makes Valeri probably the biggest Bruins fan in Siberia right now.
That the elder Khudobin hasn’t been over-the-top enthusiastic about his son’s recent run is a reflection that even dad knows Khudobin needs to stay grounded. And the son is doing just that, even now that he’s played well enough to put coach Bruce Cassidy in a position where he admitted to debating whether it will be Khudobin or Tuukka Rask starting the team’s next game at New Jersey on Wednesday.
Khudobin is coming off consecutive road wins against Los Angeles and San Jose, where he stopped 63 of 65 shots (.969 save percentage). He’s now 5-0-2 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .935 save percentage (third among qualifying goaltenders in the entire NHL), but he stressed Monday he’s still the No. 2. He’s still preparing the way he has for every game this season, and it just so happens Cassidy has tabbed him for consecutive starts.
“For me personally, the more I’m playing the better I’m feeling. So right now that’s maybe the best rhythm because I played more often,” Khudobin said.
Maybe the only hint that things are different right now for Khudobin on Monday, other than his stellar stats, was the puck with the Kings logo peeking out of Khudobin’s Bruins-logoed, purse-sized bag of tools in his stall – a souvenir from his win last Thursday. It was resting on top of the Kings puck he still has from last season’s win (when he stopped 27 of 28 shots).
But he knows how quickly prosperity can stop. He admitted he’d watched some of Rask’s starts and felt empathy for some of the misfortune that’s gone against the former Vezina Trophy winner. In Anaheim, a centering pass went off defenseman Zdeno Chara’s skate and past Rask to shift the momentum of the game Anaheim’s way. On the other hand, the Sharks seemingly scored the opening goal of the game Saturday and it was overturned after video review because it was punched in by forward Joonas Donskoi. There were other bounces that didn’t go Rask’s way, and some that helped Khudobin triumph.
Goaltending can be a brutal business with some things out of the netminder’s control.
So Khudobin stays on an even keel. He and Rask are still cordial, sometimes even talking to each other right up until the start of games. Neither goaltender has the eccentric quirks typically associated with players at that position. Rask, to his credit, answered questions about his status and his place on the team Monday. He said all the right things, put the team first and acknowledged that right now the Bruins are more of a two-goaltender team than was expected when the season started.
Khudobin might not have anticipated the recent turn of events. Who would expect they’d play their way into position to cut into the playing time of a $7 million goalie? But that didn’t mean Khudobin ever lacked self-confidence. He believes in himself and knows an ocean and a continent away Valeri believes in him as well. And possibly, even at 31 years of age, Khudobin might be able to play well enough the rest of this season to inspire confidence in an NHL general manager and find somewhere he is expected to play more regularly.
“Well I’m always thinking about it. Show me the goalie who doesn’t want to be No. 1,” he said. “And I want to be No. 1, too. But my role here is No. 2, so then I’m No. 2. You have to go over it and you have to get the job done as this role and then maybe you have a chance somewhere else or whatever.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.