Boston Bruins: Why Starting Anton Khudobin Against Buffalo Was a Good Move

Al DanielCorrespondent IIFebruary 11, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 23:  Anton Khudobin #35 of the Boston Bruins skates in warmups prior to the game against New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 23, 2013 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Bruins 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

One member of the Boston Bruins, No. 1 netminder Tuukka Rask, can wait until this Friday’s visit to the First Niagara Center to have his do-over against the Buffalo Sabres.

The rest of the team regained the upper hand in the rivalry Sunday night by kicking ice chips over a preceding 7-4 home loss with a 3-1 road triumph bolstered by backup goalie Anton Khudobin.

With the start, Khudobin snapped a 13-day drought without any extramural action. By out-dueling Ryan Miller in a 25-save effort, he swelled up his aggregate save percentage from .906 to .931 and improved to 2-0-0 on the year.

Discounting empty netters, Khudobin has now won a pair of one-goal decisions, the other being a 5-3 victory in Carolina that was finalized by a Tyler Seguin brownie biscuit. While he has allowed an equalizer each time (3-3 against the Hurricanes and 1-1 versus the Sabres), Khudobin has yet to let the Bruins fall behind on his watch.

Furthermore, in both of his appearances, Boston has outscored the adversary in the third period 4-0, breaking a tie against the opposing stopper and then adding the dagger on the empty cage. In each tilt, Khudobin has dealt with eight shots in the final stanza, repelling all of them.

On the whole, it is not unlike the majority of Rask’s starts in the early going of the 2012-13 season. Other than their lone regulation loss to the Sabres on Jan. 31, when they took a 4-1 shellacking in the third period, the Bruins have run up a cumulative 11-0 tally in the last 20 minutes of regulation.

The outlook on Khudobin might be completely different if an anomaly like the one the more-seasoned Rask endured were to come at his expense. But Boston’s well-documented drive to redeem that 7-4 debacle was just one reason why head coach Claude Julien was wise to install his backup, even if it was at first a surprising move considering who was in the Sabres' crease.

Even if they did not necessarily need it, the Bruins may have received a subtle booster injection of motivation by playing in front of the colder, less-seasoned Khudobin in this rematch.

The upshot speaks for itself.

Unlike the previous Buffalo bout 10 nights prior, the Boston defense emphatically contained Thomas Vanek, limiting him to a single shot on goal. Effort-wise, nothing less should have been expected, meaning this was the right time to instill some confidence in Khudobin.

In the same vein, the Bruins exploited the fact they had the previous day off, while the Sabres were returning from Saturday night’s visit to Long Island. They ran up a disproportionate differential in terms of attempted shots early on and drained Buffalo’s legs by putting them on a near-continuous penalty kill for the first five-and-a-half minutes of the second period.

That is not to say that Khudobin was left fully unbothered. He would actually face half of his 26-shot workload in the opening frame, but it is safe to assume he settled comfortably into his first shift in nearly two weeks by repelling all 13 first-period stabs.

By preserving the scoreless draw through the first intermission, Khudobin set off a symbiotic cycle with his skating mates. Through their first 10 outings, the Bruins have demonstrated a penchant for defensive tilts, and they emboldened that notion with their second repeat adversary of the season.

Just as they had done at the Garden, Boston and Buffalo entered Sunday’s third period in a deadlock. Just as they had done previously, the Bruins struck first in the deciding stanza.

But they put a stamp on all of Sunday’s preceding hype by ensuring they did not spill that lead.

Khudobin did his part with the aforementioned eight saves, although each shot he faced came from an ostensibly manageable distance of 40 feet or more. His influence was at its heaviest earlier when he kept the game at a low-scoring, 1-1 tilt.

Come what may, he thawed out as asked after nearly two weeks in the cooler, extending the team’s winning streak to three games and elevating the volume on his own performance.

His ability to hang in with Miller ensured that the rest of the Bruins had a chance to rinse out the vinegar from their lone regulation loss to date at the hands of these very Sabres.

At the same time, Khudobin's presence in the crease for this victory means there is, at most, still a leftover ice chip of unfinished business in the season series. That should be harbored exclusively by Khudobin’s crease colleague.

But Rask will likely scrape the blue paint against Miller this Friday after he tries to cement a season-series victory over Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers this Tuesday.

He ought to be sufficiently rested for both after Khudobin granted him a worry-free weekend off.