Boston Bruins: Thursday's Loss Poses a Goaltending Dilemma for Saturday

Al DanielCorrespondent IIFebruary 1, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 23: Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins skates in warmups prior to the game against the 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

Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is bound to be dealing with a vinegary stench on his palate in the wake of a six-goal shellacking as part of Thursday night’s 7-4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Odds are that he will be raring to rinse that out at the earliest possible chance, namely during Saturday’s excursion to Toronto.

Rask’s associate, Anton Khudobin, has been allotted only one turn in the crease through the first seven games of the season. If he has to wait one more game before he strives to build upon his 5-3 triumph at Carolina on Jan. 28, then he will have gone no fewer than nine nights in between shifts.

Either way, one Bruins backstop is going to benefit from getting the nod to scrape the blue paint at the Air Canada Centre. The other will be tasked with warding off rust, both mental and physical, and staying psychologically sound until Boston’s next extramural engagement in Montreal this coming Wednesday.

Rask is one week removed from getting the nod and getting an instantaneous redress in the wake of Boston’s only other shortcoming to date. After he allowed three regulation goals and the ultimate game-winning goal in overtime—including a hat trick via Marian Gaborik—against the New York Rangers on Jan. 23, he immediately turned around and backstopped a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders two nights later.

Until Thursday’s bumpy bout with Buffalo, that overtime point was the only one that the Bruins had missed out on this season. Yet they failed to get any points on Thursday night, due in large part to another celestial opponent, Thomas Vanek, scorching Rask for a hat trick of his own.

Summoning Rask for a fourth consecutive start against the Islanders last week proved beneficial for the starter and ultimately did no harm for the backup. That does not necessarily mean that this strategy will be effective again if Rask starts for the third time in five nights while Khudobin extends his wait from five nights to nine.

As it is, the next two matchups do not make for the easiest rotation decision. As of Friday morning, Boston is tied with both Montreal and Toronto on the NHL’s team offense leaderboard with 3.00 goals per game.

Although, the Canadiens have demonstrated better defensive efficiency, and perhaps not so surprisingly, Carey Price is off to a smoother start than the Leafs’ tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens.

Based solely on that, it would be best to reinsert Khudobin against Toronto and then let a well-rested Rask engage Price in a potential goaltenders’ arm-wrestling match on Wednesday.

But could six nights between starts be too long of a wait for Rask, especially when his latest game log entry was Thursday’s forgettable slashing via the Sabres?

Granted, Bruins skipper Claude Julien will not want Khudobin growing too cold, either, but priority naturally goes to the No. 1 netminder. In turn, it may be best to start Rask for each of the next two games, which will be interspersed with a rare four-night hiatus for the entire team.

If Boston takes that approach, however, Khudobin will need to go a protracted 12 days between his go-around in Carolina and next Saturday’s home matinee versus Tampa Bay. The workload for that weekend will all but inevitably be split, as a rematch with the Sabres in Buffalo is slated for the very next night.

Regardless, over the next week, somebody’s sharpness will need to be dangled for a potential sacrifice. The fairly conceivable, but highly improbable, best-case scenario would be to have Rask start on Saturday and hope that the Bruins can run up such a commanding lead (four, five or six goals) that Julien could comfortably swap in Khudobin for the third period.

Otherwise, this could be an interesting week for the Bruins.