Sixty-five minutes wasn’t enough to decide an intense game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Dallas Stars. Saturday night’s divisional match-up came down to a shootout. Anton Khudobin had everything thrown at him; a defender without a stick, breakaway chances, and a number of quality shots. He also made a series of incredible saves in the third to keep the game tied. Still, he stood between the pipes like a brick wall. In order to keep his team’s streak alive, the 33-year-old Kazakhstani-Russian goaltender had to face Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Neither of the Blackhawks stars could get the puck past him. Dallas won 2-1 and are now 13-1-1 in their last 15 games.
Khudobin had a night to remember. He silenced Chicago’s offense with 38 saves and a .974 save percentage. Head coach Jim Montgomery had plenty of praise for his back-up goalie. Montgomery commented on Khudobin’s ability to read the ice and incredible athleticism:
“He was the best player in the game,” Montgomery said. “We’re very fortunate”
Matching the Star’s Trend
Starting slow has been a trend for the Stars, but in the month of November, they’ve made a complete 180 that also includes Khudobin. He started slow, losing his first three games of the 2019-20 season. Now he’s flipped the script, winning his last three games. In that time, he has 89 saves and played 60 minutes or more twice.
Khudobin may be the number two man in Dallas, but he has answered the bell consistently when called upon. Even last season, he was a major reason the Stars made the playoffs. His heroics have become a calling card. Last year, he had a 16-17-5 record. If he can stay above .500 this season, the Stars will find themselves atop the standings come playoff time.
A Two-Man Fortress
The Stars could be one of the most fortunate teams in the NHL. They already have one of the strongest defenses in the league, and two strong goalies in net add fuel to the fire. The duo is drawing direct comparisons to another pair in the Eastern Conference, Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov.
“There seems to be a theme running. At some point, the Islanders have to cool off a bit, right? McDavid + Draisaitl and the Bruins’ top line can’t dominate every game, can they? We’re at the point where the Stars duo of Khudobin and Ben Bishop are inspiring similar questions (and serving as parallels to the Isles’ goalies), as they just keep getting it done,”James O’Brien | NBC Sports | Nov. 24, 2019.
The two-man fortress has stood tall. Over the last 15 games, they have a goal differential of +23. The Stars have the third lowest goals allowed in the NHL. During the team’s current stretch, Montgomery made the tough, and in Bishop’s words unusual, choice of pulling Bishop in favor of Khudobin. Khudobin stepped into that role and filled Bishop’s shoes; some big shoes to fill, because Bishop is one of the best goalies in the league.
This season, Bishop is 8-5-1. The Stars primary goalie is allowing 2.25 goals per game and has a stellar save percentage of .926. Both stats land in the top ten in the league. The crazy thing is Khudobin, as a second option, is matching him. He has raised himself into the top ten in goals allowed per game (2.15) and save percentage (.929).
“You feel good, you go into every period thinking you’re going to do well, and every game you’re going to win,” Bishop said. “It’s one of those things, when things are going well, you expect really good results. You put that kind of pressure on yourself.” (from ‘Why Jim Montgomery has pulled Ben Bishop twice in five games during the Stars’ hottest stretch of the season,’ Dallas Morning News, 11/18/2019)
No matter who Montgomery chooses to play in goal, he’s making the right call. With a lot of divisional opponents coming up, the Stars will need to have their goaltenders continue to play strong.