BOSTON — Claude Julien knows a shortened season will provide some unusual circumstances that may lead to some unusual coaching decisions. But in terms of divvying up goaltending responsibilities, the Bruins head coach isn’t thinking too far ahead.
Tuukka Rask got his second start in as many games on Monday for the B’s matinee tilt with the Winnipeg Jets, but it’s clear that keeping Rask fresh (and healthy) will be vital to the team’s success.
Just as importantly will be ensuring that backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin, stays sharp. Julien says that job falls on Khudobin just as much as it does on the coaching staff.
“I think at the end of the day, that becomes his responsibility versus ours,” Julien said before the Bruins’ shootout win over the Jets on Monday. “We’ve got to do what’s best for the team, and they have to adjust to what their roles are, and what they need to do, and that’s why he’s worked a lot after practice, and done extra to stay sharp, because when we put him in, we expect him to be good.”
What’s been best for the team so far is starting Rask. The Finnish netminder has given up just two goals in two games — both wins — and came up big on Monday afternoon in the shootout. But there will obviously come a time when Julien needs to turn to Khudobin — perhaps as early as this week — and there’s no reason to believe the 26-year-old won’t be ready.
“The good part is he did play in Russia in the KHL this year, so he’s had some games under his belt,” Julien said. “That’s always good to see from goaltenders, because that’s probably the most important part of this situation right now. How often they play makes a big difference.”
But the shortened season does make things a little complicated in terms of breaking up the work. The B’s have gotten lucky, relatively speaking, in the season’s first month. They don’t play back-to-back games until Feb. 9 and 10, and that includes a two-day (this weekend) and a three-day break (Feb. 3-5) in the next few weeks.
That will probably allow Julien to stick with Rask early on and allow the No. 1 goalie to get into a groove. We’ll see Khudobin sooner than later to keep him fresh as well, but in the early going, it seems pretty favorable. It also keeps Julien from getting too far ahead of himself, which is something he pledges not to do when it comes to his goalies.
“I’m more of a week-to-week, or two-weeks-to-two-weeks kind of coach versus the whole year,” he added. “There’s no doubt we want to see Tuukka play more than Khudobin will because he’s our No. 1, and hopefully that happens, but it’s hard for to say ‘x’ number of games versus ‘x’ number of games.”
Things may get more difficult after the first few weeks, though. Obviously an injury will complicate things, but so will the schedule. March will be a make-or-break month, not only given its importance as the start of the season’s second half, but it also figures to be a gut-check month for the B’s. Boston plays 17 games in March, including four pairs of back-to-backs. Starting March 11, the Bruins enter a stretch of five games in seven days.
However, if Rask can continue to play the way he’s been playing and Khudobin lives up to expectations (not to mention both stay healthy), that will obviously make Julien’s balancing act will be much easier.