Boston Bruins: How the NHL Lockout Can Fortify Their Goaltending Pipeline

Al DanielCorrespondent IIOctober 21, 2012

OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 21:  77th overall pick, Michael Hutchinson of the Boston Bruins poses for a portrait at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place on June 21, 2008 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)
Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

NHL lockout or not, both Michael Hutchinson and Niklas Svedberg are where they would logically be expected on the Boston Bruins’ organizational depth chart.

With the ongoing work stoppage in the top league, there are two crucial differences in the circumstances. Both goalies can concentrate solely on continuing to groom their game in Providence and they can do so with a dense presence of young, locked-out NHL-caliber players on every AHL team.

Svedberg, signed as a free agent and imported from Sweden over the summer, is fresh off a set of back-to-back winning nights while facing the likes of Jordan Nolan, Slava Voynov, Ryan Johansen and Matt Calvert. He faced no fewer than 10 opposing shots in each of the six full-length periods, but stopped at least 10 in five of them.

Save for one wobbly middle frame Friday in Manchester, when he authorized three goals on 10 shots, Svedberg was stable, stopping 53-of-54 shots over his other 100 minutes played. Only two of his four goals against were scored at even strength and the Providence penalty kill has gone a cumulative 8-for-10 on his watch.

Contrast that with Hutchinson’s performance last weekend―two losses, each with three goals against and a cumulative count of 41 saves out of 47 shots faced―and Svedberg is the decisive hot hand. But with 72 games still to come, there is ample time for Hutchinson to regroup and pitch in his share of the workload.

Most critically, though, P-Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and Boston’s watchful front office can take comfort in Svedberg’s quick acclimation to North America. He, along with Hutchinson, a third-year pro, can buckle down for a slew of adversaries who will in essence sit in a middle ground between AHL and NHL caliber.

There will be plenty more from the Springfield Falcons and Manchester Monarchs, both of whom Svedberg stymied this weekend and the latter of whom just added Dwight King. Ditto the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who singed Hutchinson last Saturday and who boast Travis Hamonic and Nino Niederreiter.

As long as the NHL is out of commission, Providence will also have its turn dealing with the Albany DevilsAdam Henrique and the Connecticut Whales' Chris Kreider, both of whom were forces in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Hutchinson and/or Svedberg may have to stare down a loaded Adirondack Phantoms lineup boasting Sean Couturier, Eric Gustafsson, Zac Rinaldo, Brayden Schenn and Eric Wellwood. There will be four meetings with the division rival St. John’s IceCaps, with Alexander Burmistrov, Spencer Machacek and Derek Meech.

One or both may also have a turn engaging in a duel with the Hershey Bears’ Braden Holtby, who stood admirably firm in a pair of seven-game bouts with Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas and Vezina recipient Henrik Lundqvist.

All of this while the presumptive Boston tandem of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin keep in shape overseas, raring to return to the blue paint at TD Garden when given the OK. Once they do, they will begin their first season as a unit and their effort to replenish what was lost when Thomas abruptly bolted.

But because that does not figure to happen in the immediate future, one of the Black and Gold’s top silver linings is the bonus seasoning and early look at NHL talent bestowed upon a Providence tandem that currently combines for zero NHL games played.

As promising as Rask and Khudobin might be, last year’s instance in the homestretch where both were injured is a testament to the indispensability of reliable reinforcement from the minors.

Depending on how much of this lockout-induced opposition they face, Hutchinson and Svedberg ought to emerge with a stronger skill set in preparation for whenever they might first be thrust between Boston’s pipes.