Anton Khudobin

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Malcolm Subban ready to compete for Bruins’ backup goalie job

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The Boston Bruins have a pretty wide open competition for the No. 2 goaltending job behind starter Tuukka Rask.

Competing for that spot are Anton Khudobin, the player that held that position for most of last season, Zane McIntyre, and 2012 first-round pick Malcolm Subban.

From the time he was drafted Subban was thought to be the future of the position in Boston but his stock seems to have dropped a bit in recent seasons and he now finds himself in danger of being passed over on the organizational depth chart. He spent the 2016-17 season in Providence where he split time with McIntyre, with McIntyre getting the better of the play, finishing with a .930 save percentage in 31 games (to a .917 save percentage for Subban in 32 games).

“I believe I can play,” Subban said this past week, via the Boston Herald. “I know my talent better than anyone else and I believe I can play. I want to come in to camp and prove that. Obviously, it’s easier said than done. Everyone in camp believes they can play or else they wouldn’t be here. I’m just trying to prove I can play in the NHL, or get an opportunity at least.”

Throughout his pro career Subban has posted okay numbers in the American Hockey, but nothing that really jumps off the page. He has only appeared in two NHL games with both of them ending badly for him, allowing a total of six goals on 22 shots in his two appearances. The most recent appearance came during the 2016-17 season when he allowed three goals on only six shots in an ugly loss to the Minnesota Wild.

The Bruins re-signed Subban — along with McIntyre — to a two-year contract this summer.

Solidifying the backup goalie spot should be a pretty big priority for the Bruins because it was a major sore spot during the 2016-17 season.

Even though his production has slipped a bit in recent seasons Rask can still be a top tier starting goalie in the NHL. But he has been counted on to carry a massive workload due to the lack of quality play behind him.

The Bruins managed to win just seven games last season when Rask did not start, while his backups managed to post a miserable .888 save percentage.

A capable backup that can give Rask a bit of a break during the season will not only give the Bruins a better chance to win when he is not in the lineup, it might also help improve his play simply because he would not be run into the ground.

Cam Ward ready for backup role with Hurricanes

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For the better part of the past 12 seasons Cam Ward has been a constant in the Carolina Hurricanes’ net. He is the longest tenured member of the team and a Stanley Cup champion.

This season, however, his hold on the starting job seems to have finally come to an end with the arrival of Scott Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hurricanes acquired Darling’s free agent rights in a trade, then acted quickly to sign him to a four-year, $16.6 million contract.

That is not a commitment you make to a player that you intend to sit on the bench, and Ward knows this.

In an interview with the News & Observer this week Ward talked about his new role with the team and how he is willing and ready to accept it after being a starter for more than a decade.

From the News & Observer:

“I’m realistic,” Ward said in an interview at Raleigh Center Ice. “I understand the situation. I know he was brought in here to sign a four-year deal for pretty good money not to be a backup.

“I know where I am in my career. … Certainly I’m a competitive guy and I still want to be able to play and I’ll do whatever I can to earn that ice time, but I’m hopeful he can make that next step. He deserves that.”

The unfortunate reality for Ward is that it is a move the Hurricanes had to make.

Goaltending has been one of the single biggest issues plaguing the Hurricanes in recent seasons, and Ward has been the key player at that position. He has not finished a season with a save percentage higher than .910 since the 2011-12 season. In the five years since then his .907 save percentage is 43rd out of 47 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games, ahead of only Ondrej Pavelec, Ben Scrivens and Jacob Markstrom.

The Hurricanes have been assembling a talented, young roster in recent seasons and finally look like a team that is on the verge of becoming a player in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They have an outstanding young defense that has already made them one of the best shot suppression teams in the league, as well as some young high-end forward talent up front. The only ingredient that has been missing has been more consistent play in net.

The Hurricanes have also taken chances on backups Anton Khudobin and Eddie Lack over the years in the hopes they could push Ward and help solidify the position. None of them worked out.

Darling is the latest top backup that they have tabbed to be their solution in net. He has been one of the best backup goalies in the league in recent seasons and will be getting his shot to be a starter this season.

Will Antti Raanta be the answer in net for the Coyotes?

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This post is a part of Coyotes day at PHT…

The Arizona Coyotes made some pretty drastic changes to their roster this offseason saying goodbye to some major veteran players (Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata, Mike Smith) and bringing in some fresh faces to replace them, including Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson and goalie Antti Raanta.

Overall, the players coming in would seem to be — on paper anyway — upgrades over what they ended up letting go.

One of the more intriguing changes is going to be in net where Raanta is going to replace Smith, the Coyotes’ starting goalie for the past six years, and get his first opportunity to be a starting goalie in the NHL.

It is an opportunity he has earned over the past three years.

During that stretch Raanta has been one of the NHL’s top backups, playing behind Corey Crawford in Chicago and then Henrik Lundqvist in New York the past two years. There even came a point this past season where Raanta played so well (coinciding with one of the worst slumps of Lundqvist’s career) that he ended up getting the bulk of the playing time for nearly a month.

Over the past three years his save percentage has put him alongside some of the NHL’s elite goalies, but he has done that primarily as a backup where a goalie can get more favorable matchups and not have to deal with a starter’s workload.

How Raanta adjusts to being the No. 1 goalie will go a long way toward determining how good the Coyotes can be this season.

Shortly after he was acquired by the Coyotes I mentioned how a decent comparable for him and the Coyotes might be the player Cam Talbot has turned out to be for the Edmonton Oilers. Talbot was coming from a nearly identical situation (very good backup to Henrik Lundqvist in New York at a similar age) and has become an above average starter.

If the Coyotes can get that level of play from Raanta it would be a nice addition, and probably an upgrade over what they were going to get from Smith — not to mention at a better price.

The question is whether or not they can get that level of play.

In looking at goalies that have followed similar career paths in recent years the results have been somewhat mixed.

I went back over the past 15 years and looked at goalies that played between between 40 and 100 games through their age 27 season (an admittedly imperfect way of identifying “backups”) and how the most successful ones did when — and if — they became starters.

There were 45 goalies in the hockey-reference database that fit that criteria.

Twelve of them had a save percentage of .916 or better during that point in their career. The list includes Matt Murray, Cam Talbot, Anton Khudobin, Andrew Hammond, Dan Ellis, Philipp Grubauer, Scott Darling, Alex Stalock, Ben Scrivens, Eddie Lack, Vesa Toskala, and, of course, Raanta.

It is an interesting list.

Murray and Grubauer don’t really fit the mold of what we are looking for here because they are both young players that were top prospects. Murray has already taken a starting job and excelled with it, winning two Stanley Cups before his 23rd birthday.

Grubauer probably could be a starter if wasn’t playing behind one of the top-three goalies in the world.

Darling is entering into an identical situation as Raanta this season where he is getting a chance to go from successful backup to full-time starter.

But the rest of that group is exactly what we are looking for here, and the results are not exactly encouraging because other than Talbot none of them really went on to have much success as starters. Lack and Khudobin both continued Carolina’s goaltending struggles that led to them trying to find another top backup this offseason (Darling), while Ellis, Hammond, Stalock, Scrivens, and Toskala never really panned out.

The one thing that Raanta and the Coyotes have going in their favor is that he has a larger body of work to go by, having already already played in 94 games at the NHL level. A lot of the players on the aforementioned list had less than 50 games at a similar point.

We will find out if that extra playing will make a difference.

Scott Darling will be the key to the Hurricanes’ season

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

A few numbers to keep in mind about the Carolina Hurricanes as they prepare to enter the 2017-18 season:

  • Over the past three seasons only one team in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings — has allowed fewer shots on goal per game than the 27.3 allowed by the Hurricanes. An impressive number, especially given how young their defense has been during that stretch.
  • Despite those low shot totals the Hurricanes are only 19th in the NHL in goals against. The are the only team in the top-eight in shots against that finished outside of the top-12 in goals against and the only one that has not made the playoffs at least once. Two of those teams have made the Stanley Cup Final at least once. Four have made the the Conference Finals at least once.

So how is a team that is so good at suppressing shots so bad at preventing goals and winning games?

Goaltending.

They are hoping that newly acquired goalie Scott Darling, getting what will be his first chance at a full-time starting job, will be able to help fix that issue.

Over that same three-year stretch mentioned above, Hurricanes goalies — a revolving door made up of Cam Ward, Eddie Lack, and Anton Khudobin — have not managed a save percentage that placed them higher than 26th in the entire league in any one season. That is a pretty significant problem and it has been, perhaps, the single biggest factor in the team’s lack of success on the ice. No one position in hockey can impact the fortunes of a team more than a goalie. Carey Price has taken an average Canadiens team and made them a contender. The opposite has been happening in Carolina.

Let’s just look at this past season as an example, when the duo of Ward and Lack finished with a .904 mark, with Ward (playing in 61 of the games) leading the way at .905.

If the Hurricanes had been able to replace Ward’s performance with a league average number (in the .912 range) in his 61 starts the Hurricanes would have allowed 12-14 fewer goals right off the bat. A league average duo across the board would have cut close to 20 goals off the board over 82 games. That is a potentially significant swing and Darling is the newest goalie that will get a chance to make it happen.

Darling spent the past three seasons serving as Corey Crawford‘s backup in Chicago and playing at a level that made him one of the league’s best No. 2 goalies. Among the 58 goalies that have appeared in at least 60 games over the past three seasons Darling’s .923 save percentage has him sixth in the NHL behind only Carey Price, Matt Murray, Antti Raanta (another backup getting a chance to start this season), Devan Dubnyk and Braden Holtby.

The test for him is whether or not he can maintain that level of play — or anything close to it — when he is counted on to be the No. 1 goalie that gets the top teams every night.

If he can be, the Hurricanes are going to have a great shot to end that eight-year playoff drought given how good their defense already is and how many young, talented forwards they have in their lineup.

If he is not, it will probably be more of the same — a promising young team that just seems to keep falling short in the regular season.

Who will step up and give the Bruins some decent backup goaltending?

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This post is part of Bruins Day on PHT…

The past three seasons combined, only one NHL goalie, Washington’s Braden Holtby, has played more minutes and made more saves than Tuukka Rask.

In a related story, the Bruins haven’t had a reliable backup for three years running.

In 2014-15, it was Niklas Svedberg that lost the trust of then-head coach Claude Julien.

The next season, Jonas Gustavsson played well at times, but not well enough overall.

Which brings us to last year, when Anton Khudobin was brought back to Boston, only to end up on waivers by January.

Rask, meanwhile, had to play, and play a lot. He started out in excellent form, but as the minutes piled up, his numbers began to suffer.

It got to the point in late March that Bruce Cassidy, Julien’s mid-season replacement, had to admit that Rask had been “overplayed.”

“He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year,” Cassidy said, “and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.”

Credit to Rask, who wasn’t the reason the B’s fell to Ottawa in the first round. If anything, it was all the injuries to the blue line that hurt the Bruins the most. For his part, Rask finished the playoffs with a .920 save percentage.

But with a decent backup, the B’s might’ve been able to get home-ice advantage in the playoffs. A rested Rask might’ve been even better when the games really mattered.

Next season, the Bruins are likely to start with the same tandem of Rask and Khudobin, the latter of whom still has a year left on his contract.

But if Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban can outplay Khudobin in the preseason, the No. 2 job could easily be taken from the veteran.

Based on his AHL numbers, McIntyre has a decent shot of doing just that. In 30 games for Providence last season, the 24-year-old had an impressive .930 save percentage.

Of course, McIntyre also got into eight NHL games last season, and his save percentage was a ghastly .858. So there’s that to consider as well.

As for Subban, his only two NHL starts have been nightmares, and his AHL numbers have actually fallen since his first two years as a pro. But there’s still a sliver of hope for the 23-year-old. One never knows when a goalie could get hot.

For the Bruins’ sake, it doesn’t really matter which goalie emerges as the backup, as long as one of them does a decent job and keeps 30-year-old Rask fresh.

Recall 2010-11 when it was Rask who played the role of reliable backup, keeping Tim Thomas fresh for his Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance in the playoffs.

That’s what the B’s need in 2017-18 — a reliable backup. If they get one, it’ll be the first time they’ve had that in a while.

Combined, Boston’s backups went a miserable 7-11-2 last season.