Bruins visit Devils with unstable goaltending situation (Nov 22, 2017)
It is not exactly breaking news that coaches are tasked with having to make tough decisions.
To wit: Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy's choice between starting No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask or hot hand Anton Khudobin on Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
"It's a crystal ball kind of thing," Cassidy told reporters following the Bruins' practice at Warrior Ice Arena when asked if he was got to start Rask or Khudobin, according to BostonSportsJournal.com. "That's the best we can do with it."
The Bruins enter the game having capped off their California trip with 2-1 and 3-1 victories over the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. Khudobin started both games and recorded 63 saves on 65 shots.
In eight games this season (five starts), Khudobin has a 2.17 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage while compiling a 5-0-2 record. By comparison, Rask has a 2.89 GAA and an .897 save percentage along with a 3-7-2 record in 12 games.
Cassidy said Khudobin's play has forced him to change the goaltenders playing schedules from a weekly format to a per game basis.
"Obviously the other night it would have been Tuukka in San Jose but we went with Dobby," Cassidy said. "At the end of the day we still want to watch the starts. That's the most important thing when you schedule it. Are they getting their good rest? How many starts are they going to end up with? So if Tuukka gets a few (games) off now -- sometimes that happens with injuries -- then maybe he makes them up later."
While Cassidy is navigating a delicate goaltending tightrope, he acknowledged his team will be short-handed against the Devils, even with the callup of Matt Grzelcyk from AHL Providence.
Cassidy said the Bruins will not have Brad Marchand, Torey Krug, Anders Bjork and Adam McQuaid because of injuries. Marchand (concussion) and Krug have been diagnosed with upper-body injuries, while the team has not revealed Bjork's condition. McQuaid underwent surgery to repair a broken right fibula, which was sustained in the 6-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 19. Cassidy said Ryan Spooner may rejoin the team shortly. He suffered a torn adductor muscle in the 3-1 loss to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 15.
"We're going to have a conversation," Cassidy said. "The plan for him was to get through a practice of contacting we'll make a decision. He's a lot closer."
Still, the question is whether the Bruins will have enough time to make up position in the Eastern Conference playoff race once they are fully healthy.
Boston (8-7-4) is fifth in the Atlantic Division -- 12th overall in the Eastern Conference and 25th in the NHL. That does not bode well for the Bruins' Stanley Cup playoff hopes.
A STATS, LLC study in 2014 revealed the teams who were in the Eastern and/or Western Conference top eight positions by U.S. Thanksgiving since 2005-06 qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs at a 77.3 percent clip. Also, according to the Chicago Tribune, following the NHL's shift to two divisions in 2013-14, seven of the eight playoff spots in both conferences were locked up by U.S. Thanksgiving.
Whereas the Bruins are trying to build some positive momentum, the Devils have returned home from a four-game road trip (2-1-1) feeling better about themselves after leaving Minnesota with a 4-3 overtime win over the Wild on Monday night.
New Jersey led throughout against the Wild, having held advantages of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-1 before Minnesota's Mikael Granlund scored twice in a 7:10 span of the third period to force overtime. John Moore scored the game-winner 52 seconds into sudden death.
"One of the big things for us is you want to be able to funnel pucks to the net," New Jersey coach John Hynes told reporters after the game. "One of the things we've talked to our players about is getting better at getting to the net-front. That's what happens when you funnel pucks in there and get traffic, sometimes you get bounces like that."
With the win, the Devils (12-5-3) regained first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Devils had dropped a 1-0 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Thursday and dropped a 5-2 decision to the Jets in Winnipeg on Saturday.
"It was huge. You put that in," Moore told reporters in Minnesota after the game. "With the way this trip has gone, we needed two points tonight and that was stressed from this morning. It was a great job by our team to kind of regroup and get those two points."