Tough Decisions: Bruins Backup Goalie

With the preseason coming to a close and the Bruins having almost a week off before opening day at the TD Garden on October 3, when they will face Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning, there has been some concern that Tuukka Rask wouldn’t see enough time between the pipes. On Monday, after the Bruins beat the Capitals in overtime, Coach Claude Julien stated that it was always in the plans to play Rask in Saskatoon for the last game of the preseason on Friday, September 27, against the Winnipeg Jets.

It is hoped that if this is Rask’s last full game of the preseason that he will see more shots than he did during the game against Washington. While fans would probably prefer to not see pucks making their way to Rask, it was clear on Monday that the pucks were too few and too far between for him to be able to maintain that level of readiness that busier games offer.

Regardless of the outcome of the remaining preseason games, there should be no question as to Rask’s intentions for the regular season—to stop the pucks from going in the net and helping take his team deep into a Stanley Cup run. It was apparent during his interviews after that Rask prefers games with more pucks shot at him. However, he philosphized how every game is different and that he feels good; just needs to remain sharp. His take on Monday’s game? “Probably one of the worst case scenarios for a goalie who likes shots.”

Of course, the still burning question is who will back up Rask during the regular season.

No one should have been surprised when the announcement came that Malcolm Subban was being assigned to the Providence Bruins training camp. Likewise, no one should point to the 8-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, September 19, as the reason Subban is now with the Providence Bruins. Though the game against Detroit shows some of the weaknesses that Subban will need to shore up, he wasn’t playing that game alone. Many of the players that night sat back and gave the Red Wings way too much time and space to make their plays.

No, when it comes to the 19-year-old Subban, in regard to the development of a goalie, he is still coming into his game and his skill. A year or more in Providence could prove to be the best thing for him, offering him a solid development experience that will only enhance his abilities.

(Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)
(Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)

Chad Johnson

If fans should be questioning anyone’s game, perhaps it should be Chad Johnson. Though he had a much better outing in between the pipes when the Bruins went to Detroit on Saturday, September 21, to earn the shut out, perhaps of more concern should be the three goals against on only five shots in 29 minutes of play against the Montreal Canadiens.

Some could say that it was nerves or, as Johnson himself alluded, that it’s exhibition season. He may be relying too heavily on the idea that Bruins’ management knows of what he is capable. “I think they know what I can do,” he stated. “So these exhibition games are just a building block for the season.”

Niklas Svedberg

Building block or not, Niklas Svedberg is definitely not relying on what he thinks management may or may not know. His competitive edge is right up there regardless of whether it is an exhibition, regular season or playoff game.

And it could be Svedberg’s competitive approach that may win him the spot. General Manager Peter Chiarelli discussed to the group at the start of training camp that he was looking forward to seeing them compete for a spot. And this was not the first time Chiarelli had mentioned this concept. It was brought up the day before training camp began when he and others of the Bruins organization met with the season ticket holders for the annual “State of the Bruins Address.” Chiarelli was asked during the Q&A period as to his thoughts on signing Chad Johnson and was it in relation to Svedberg’s lack of AHL experience. While comparing the style of play of both goalies, he stated that camp was about competition and that he “felt that this spot needed some competition.”

Perhaps Johnson would have been wise to hear and take the word “competition” to heart. And while head coach Claude Julien doesn’t feel that practice is a good indicator for evaluating goalies, Johnson has come up lacking more than his fair share of times in practice, often on similar shots.

Niklas Svedberg of the Providence Bruins (Photo Courtesy of Alan Sullivan/Providence Bruins)
Niklas Svedberg of the Providence Bruins (Photo Courtesy of Alan Sullivan/Providence Bruins)

Perhaps one of the only areas in which Johnson has anything over the talented Svedberg is in the realm of maturity. Svedberg has been known to lash out when opposing players take liberties in his crease—sometimes putting his team on the penalty kill at inopportune moments.

Svedberg will have the chance to show his skills and “never say die” approach on Thursday, when the Bruins take on the Winnipeg Jets in the first of their back-to-back games. Since the second of the games is already earmarked for Rask, this will be the final chance for Svedberg to show what he can do in a game.

The next two games may not tell the entire story. Julien has already alluded that management will have a couple tough decisions to make to get down to the final roster. And it is likely that one of those difficult decisions could be the choosing of Rask’s backup. Intangibles may play a role in that final choice.