Jonas Gustavsson vs. Jeremy Smith — who ya got?
That’s the question facing Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien and general manager Don Sweeney as the NHL preseason enters its final days.
Gustavsson, the ex-Red Wing and Maple Leaf in town on a tryout, and Smith, the five-year AHL veteran who’s yet to play a minute at hockey’s highest level, emerged this week as the two finalists for the backup job behind Bruins starting goaltender Tuukka Rask.
With Rask set to start Friday’s preseason finale, Julien sent Gustavsson out Wednesday to get one final look at the 30-year-old Swede, and to give him a body of work equal to Smith’s.
So, as the Bruins’ higher-ups evaluate the performance of the two netminders, let’s do the same:
— Smith and Gustavsson each played roughly a game-and-a-half this preseason, plus one five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime session apiece. (In all, Smith played 94 minutes; Gustavsson played 95.)
— Each allowed three goals — all in regulation — with Smith’s coming on 37 shots and Gustavsson’s coming on 51.
— The competition also was nearly identical: The two split time in the preseason opener against the New Jersey Devils, then played an entire game against the New York Rangers. Smith won his 4-3 in a shootout and Gustavsson lost his 3-2 on Wednesday, with both games featuring three consecutive Rangers goals.
— Both clearly outplayed Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre, who fell victim to Sunday’s round of roster cuts.
So, who has the edge? That’s tough to say.
Gustavsson has far more NHL experience (148 games with Toronto and Detroit), but his injury history has to be concerning for a Bruins team that desperately wants consistency and stability at the position.
The 26-year-old Smith is four years younger, is already under contract with the team and played well last season in Providence, posting a 2.05 goals against average and .933 save percentage in 39 games. But the NHL, of course, is a different animal.
Only one will make the team. Deciding who stays and who goes will not be easy for Claude & Co.
A few additional notes from Wednesday:
— Defenseman Matt Irwin lost his helmet during a second-period shift, forcing him to play bucket-less for about 30 seconds. USA Today photographer Anthony Gruppuso captured the moment in this cool shot:
— McIntyre joined Providence Bruins training camp after being cut from the big club Sunday. He made his first appearance for the Baby B’s on Wednesday, allowing three goals on 19 shots.
— Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller — one of just 36 California natives to appear in an NHL game — recently sat down for a Q&A with West Coast-focused hockey blog California Rubber.
One of the highlights of the interview involved the 27-year-old’s long-standing friendship/rivalry with former Providence Bruins teammate Kyle MacKinnon.
“The (memory) that sticks out the most was playing in San Jose — I think my Mite or Squirt years when I played for the West Valley Wolves and we had a rivalry going on with the California Wave,” Miller said. “A friend of mine I ended up playing with in Providence and playing against at Providence College was Kyle MacKinnon, who played for the Wave for years.
“We ended up playing for the (California Amateur Hockey Association) state championship. We won one year, and I think they won the next. It’s crazy how things work out; I played against him my whole life growing up, and then we play together our first year of pro.”
Read the full interview here.
Thumbnail photo via Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Bruins goalie Jonas Gustavsson during a preseason game.