Stars Will Need Khudobin to Step up Again

For as much as Ben Bishop deserves praise for his Vezina-worthy 2018-19 season, it has unfortunately cast a shadow over his number two, Anton Khudobin. Yes, the Dallas Stars regularly highlighted Khudobin’s contribution, but the Khazakhstanian netminder’s performance warrants recognition on a national level. The Stars would have struggled to secure a playoff spot without his late-season heroics, and they will need him to be just as sharp going forward if Bishop has a third straight year shortened by injury.

A Notable Outing

Khudobin’s 16-17-5 record doesn’t leap off the stat sheet, but it was both the timing of his wins and the manner in which he earned them that elevated the team to success. The 32-year-old played in six contests that ended multi-game losing streaks, two of them halted skids that were three games long. However, it was a meeting when Khudobin played just 6:23 of ice time that stands as one of his most noteworthy appearances.

When Bishop was forced to exit the second period of Dec. 18’s matchup against the Calgary Flames to undergo concussion protocol, Khudobin took on the tall task of maintaining a one-goal lead until the former could return. Khudobin faced a mere three shots in that span, but one had a direct impact on the outcome. T.J. Brodie pounced on a loose puck ten feet away from the net but was stonewalled by a sliding Khudobin. The save can be seen eleven seconds into the clip below.

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What makes this even more critical is that Radek Faksa slid home an insurance marker just two minutes and nine seconds later. The eventual triumph stopped the Stars’ four-game losing streak and gave the club a much-needed win against a Flames team that was 9-1-1 in their previous eleven contests. If Khudobin hadn’t come up with that gargantuan save on Brodie, the Stars may have dropped a fifth consecutive game just before the holiday break—a crucial time for morale to be high. It’s the kind of moment that seems insignificant when placed against an entire season but that quietly influences its course.

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Khudobin’s work on Dec. 18 serves as the ultimate microcosm of his season; he was asked to step up for an ailing Bishop and play through uncomfortable scenarios only to have Bishop receive most of the props afterward. Fortunately, those close to the team appreciate the role the man nicknamed ‘Dobby’ played, especially leading up to the postseason.

Clinching Playoff Berth

In the thickest stretch of the Stars’ playoff push, Bishop suffered a knee injury that forced him out of action until the final game of the regular season. This thrust all postseason hopes onto Khudobin, who answered by continuing his campaign of clutch contests. From March 27 to April 2, he stopped 116 of 123 shots, going 3-0-1 with a .943 save percentage and securing the Stars’ place in the playoffs. Furthermore, he achieved these numbers amid a Western Canadian road trip, considered one of the toughest sections of the schedule.

Anton Khudobin
Dallas Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Khudobin may not possess the sexiest numbers, but time and again he altered his club’s destiny in a positive way. The Stars wouldn’t have clinched a berth without Ben Bishop, yes, but the same should be said about Khudobin.

Looking Ahead

The reason the 10-year veteran played a career-high 41 games was due to Bishop’s injuries, three of which he sustained in 2019 alone. None of them were long-term, luckily, but it continued a pattern several years in the making. What’s worse is that these tweaks have become more common for him recently, suggesting the problem may not go away in the upcoming season.

The solution is to limit Bishop’s back-to-backs and use Khudobin more regularly, especially early in the season, saving Bishop’s best for when it matters. Khudobin played far above expectations last season to prove he’s worthy of such responsibility, so don’t be surprised to see him play a more prominent role in 2019-20.

In any case, the Stars have one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL. Combined with the offseason additions of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry, they’re poised to make their most substantial push at the Stanley Cup since they reached the Western Conference Final in 2008.