The Boston Bruins’ convoluted crease just got a little clearer.
General Manager Don Sweeney announced eight cuts to his training camp roster on Sunday after their fourth preseason game, a 4-3 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings. Among the players who will head down I-95 to Providence include goaltenders Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre. The 21-year-old Subban stopped 35 of 38 shots in two preseason appearances while McIntyre stopped nine of 10 shots in Boston’s 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.
The backup goalie battle was one of the more intriguing positional storylines entering training camp. It has since become a duel between Jonas Gustavsson, who is with the Bruins on a professional tryout, and Jeremy Smith a career netminder in the American Hockey League. They will duke it out in the club’s final three preseason games for the right to back up Tuukka Rask on Opening Night.
My Name Is Jonas
Gustavsson entered the summer as a free agent and was unable to find a suitor for his services. Sweeney decided to take a chance on the 30-year-old and invite him to Boston for a professional tryout early in September.
After spending the past three seasons as Jimmy Howard’s backup in the Motor City, Gustavsson came to the Bruins on a mission. Coach Claude Julien decided to throw him right into the mix, starting the Swede for the club’s first preseason game against New Jersey.
Jonas Gustavsson, for his part, was very good stopping all 18 shots he faced from the Devils. Good first impression for the Swede
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) September 21, 2015
A slow start for the Bruins meant plenty of opportunities for Gustavsson to shine. He made several key saves repelling wave after wave of attacks by the Devils, allowing Boston to find their footing. He would go on to make 18 saves in 30 minutes of action, earning the victory in a 2-0 shutout over New Jersey.
There’s plenty to like about Gustavsson’s game. He earned the moniker “The Monster” because of how much net he covers with his 6’3″ frame. He stands tall and gives shooters very little room to work with when trying to light the lamp. In addition, Gustavsson carries 148 games of NHL experience across six seasons.
It’s difficult to judge a netminder based on just one preseason appearance, but Bruins fans have to like what they’ve seen from Gustavsson so far.
It’s been a long road for Jeremy Smith.
Nashville’s second-round pick from 2007 has spent five seasons in the AHL with three different teams while looking to make the leap to the big time. After playing in 205 games, the 26-year-old has yet to make an appearance in the NHL. Last season’s performance in Providence (22-11-5, 2.05 GAA, .933 save percentage) was his best since 2011.
His first preseason appearance came in relief of Gustavsson against New Jersey on September 20. The Michigan native made 12 saves to preserve a shutout victory for the Bruins.
Jeremy Smith has allowed three goals on 16 shots so far. Not a good showing for him looking to win the B's backup job
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) September 25, 2015
Smith started on Thursday night against the New York Rangers and stopped 22 of 25 shots in Boston’s 4-3 shootout triumph over the Blueshirts. Looking beyond the box score, he gave up what was arguably two soft goals to Brady Skjei and Kevin Hayes on the glove side; a problem that has plagued Subban, his teammate in Providence, throughout camp.
Nevertheless, he survived the latest round of roster cuts and has a fighting chance to make the Opening Night roster for the first time in his career.
Who Will Win Out?
Three preseason tilts separate the Bruins from October 8. With Tuukka Rask getting the start on Monday night against Detroit, it’s a safe bet that Smith and Gustavsson will combine to start the final two games against New York and Washington.
The biggest challenge for Smith is to improve his glove hand. Gustavsson’s rebound control is a little concerning but he is in good standing at the moment. Then again, he’s only played half of a preseason game.
The fact that Gustavsson has six seasons of NHL experience plays to his favor, considering Boston’s somewhat failed experiment with Niklas Svedberg (7-5-1) last year. The rookie only made 18 appearances and lost the trust of the coaching staff when called upon to give Rask a rest down the stretch. The Bruins won’t be too keen on making the same mistake twice and possibly burning out their franchise netminder.
As of right now, the job is probably Gustavsson’s to lose. However, many things can change between now and Opening Night.
One thing is for certain: the backup battle in Boston is heating up.