By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The puck was shot from below the goal line, closer to the corner than to the slot, and went off the back of Anton Khudobin’s helmet into the net to cut the Bruins’ lead 3-2 on Tuesday in a preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden.
It was the type of goal that would be demoralizing to the Bruins in the regular season (although they hung on for a 4-2 win), and might’ve elicited some doubt Tuesday in Khudobin and coach Bruce Cassidy’s mind about the 31-year-old’s ability to be a reliable backup for Tuukka Rask this season.
But in the aftermath of the victory, Khudobin wasn’t panicked.
“It was a pretty good shot. I didn’t expect that,” he said.
Cassidy didn’t give Khudobin his full-throated approval but also didn’t crush the Kazakh goaltender when the coach classified the 20-save performance as “pretty good.”
Keeping cool in times of adversity has become a calling card of Khudobin’s, and it may help him salvage his NHL career the way he did last season down the stretch when he turned a disastrous situation into a fortuitous one for the Bruins. Rask needed rest, Khudobin won six decisions in a row, and the Bruins returned to the playoffs for first time in three seasons.
All summer, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney had his boilerplate answer ready for questions about the No. 2 goaltender spot. Sure he was looking to upgrade the position, as he was with his entire roster, but if Khudobin could play this season the way he did from February through April last season, Sweeney was content with the depth Khudobin — and prospects Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre — gave the Bruins.
It was as close as a vote of confidence as one could get from Sweeney, but Khudobin didn’t hear any of it. He was too busy rededicating himself to his strength and conditioning. Khudobin said he started offseason workouts earlier than normal (in June). And after getting a taste for CrossFit in the summer of 2016, this summer he really got into it in an effort to be stronger from head to toe.
“I really enjoyed it. You can be exhausted after 15 minutes of working. It’s one complex and you can be dead,” Khudobin said. “So it’s kind of fun, but it’s good fun and you get into good shape.”
“[Worked on] everything, overall,” he continued. “We didn’t do too much pushups and too much stuff that I can gain muscles, upper-body muscles, because I don’t really want them. I want to be quick and react pretty good. And we were more focusing on strength and conditioning pretty much.”
Khudobin worked in plenty of skating between CrossFit sessions. No one can accuse him of not being prepared for the challenge ahead. Subban and McIntyre are a year older and naturally should be that much closer to challenging for the NHL job. But their respective developments have gone through ebbs and flows, including Monday’s inconsistent start by Subban against Montreal. McIntyre was perfect in relief against the Canadiens but was mostly untested.
The competition is stiff to be Rask’s understudy and little things like shots from safe areas going in the net off masks can make the difference. There won’t be many chances for the three goaltenders to make their case to Sweeney and Cassidy. But Khudobin isn’t looking over his shoulder at the upstart goaltenders just yet.
“The only one I can control is my game,” he said. “That’s only what I’m focusing on right now. They’re good goaltenders, it’s not my decision who’s going to here, who’s going to be [in Providence], I’m just focusing on my game, how I can get better, what I can do to get the points for the team. That’s it.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.