With the Boston Bruins set to open the 2015-16 regular season this Thursday, NESN.com is bringing you a position-by-position preview of this season’s squad. Next up: the men in net.
Backup goalies don’t tend to stick around Boston for long.
In the four seasons since winning their most recent Stanley Cup, the Bruins have employed four different secondary goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Anton Khudobin, Chad Johnson and Niklas Svedberg.
The first three worked out swimmingly: Rask became the unquestioned No. 1 after Tim Thomas left town in 2012, and both Khudobin and Johnson, while unheralded, proved to be more-than-capable No. 2’s, going a combined 26-8-4 between the 2012-13 and ’13-14 seasons.
The fourth, however, was a different story.
Although Svedberg’s numbers weren’t terrible in his lone full season in Boston, the then-25-year-old Swede failed at a backup goalie’s most important job: earning the trust of his organization.
“Tuukka’s always been a pretty reliable goaltender,” head coach Claude Julien said. “I’ve never seen him stink in a game. He’s had some games where he’s been maybe average or above average, but I’d say 95 percent of the time, you’re counting on this goaltender to be good, and he is. So, that’s great. But now, you’re looking for that small percentage out of the backup that when you need him and he needs to play, he needs to be good for you.”
With the Bruins locked in an ultimately unsuccessful battle for a playoff spot, Rask was forced to play a career-high 70 games (including three relief appearances) last season. Why? Because, as Julien repeatedly has stated, the team simply did not believe in Svedberg to get the job done.
In an effort to ensure their franchise goaltender does not face a similarly taxing workload this season, the Bruins held a four-way tryout this summer and fall to find Svedberg’s replacement.
Malcolm Subban and first-year pro Zane McIntyre bowed out of the race first and were sent down to Providence for more seasoning. Jeremy Smith and Jonas Gustavsson continued to battle until the end of the preseason, at which point Gustavsson, a 30-year-old NHL veteran attending training camp on a tryout offer, won out.
There’s no guarantee Gustavsson is the answer. In six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, he never posted a goals against average below 2.50 or a save percentage above .915. Both Julien and Rask sound confident, though, if not in Gustavsson himself then in Boston’s bounty of organizational depth at the position.
“Last season, obviously we underachieved way, way, way too hard, and I had to play a lot of games,” Rask said Wednesday in an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich.” “That’s just how it went. But this season, I think that we have a couple, if not three, goalies who can play and step in when I need to rest. So, I think it’ll be a good year for us. We’ll see how many games (I end up playing), but I’m sure it’s going to be less than 70.”
If the Bruins hope to regain their status as playoff contenders, they’d better hope he’s right.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask