Bruins have NHL on the defensive


Bruins have NHL on the defensive

BOSTON -- Pekka Rinne finished second to Tim Thomas in the Vezina Trophy voting last year by a healthy margin despite an amazing season for the Nashville Predators.

But the Preds' puck-stopper did surpass the Bruins goaltender in one pretty significant category -- and probably the one area that playersuse as their ultimate scoreboard--when he signed a seven-year, 49 million contract with Nashvilleon Thursday afternoon.

Rinne is in the same elite goaltender class as Thomas and even finished ahead of Thomas in the Hart Trophy voting last year. Hes a 29-year-old goalie entering his prime in a positional category where most players dont truly find greatness until after their 30th birthday. Hell also be the highest-paid goalie in the NHL beginning next season when his 7 million-a-year contract kicks into gear in Music City.

So much of the game of hockey revolves around the goaltending position, said Nashville GM David Poile during the conference call to announce Rinnes signing. So many of us believe that you build a hockey team from the goaltender on out. In our estimation weve signed the best goaltender in the NHL, and he gives us the best opportunity moving forward to backstop the Predators in their quest to win the Stanley Cup.

All that being said, the former Nashville eighth-round pick has just one playoff series victory under his belt and has a tremendous amount left to prove along with his Preds' teammates.

How does this all involve the Bruins?

Theres no denying Rinnes big-bucks deal became an easier sell for an executive like Poile after watching the cheap route on goaltending go belly up around the leagueafter it was in vogue only a year or two ago. Instead it is the combination ofsuperb goaltending fromThomas along with a hearty defense and hard-working offense that have become the successful template after Boston's run to the Cup.

Everybody pointed to the successful goalie duo of Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood with the Detroit Red Wings as the successful model for teams looking to simply load up on quality forwards and defensemen in front of the goaltenders. Philadelphia infamously tried to go with the goaltender-by-committee route last season, with disastrous results that ended with a blown apart roster.

Things are now trending in the opposite direction after Tim Thomas carried the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship last season. Goaltending has always been important at the NHL level, but last year proved that elite goaltending can be the biggest game-changer during the postseason.

That seems to be message going around the league after the Flyers (Ilya Bryzgalov) and Predators (Linne) locked up their goalies to long-term, big-money contracts. An elite goaltender and a decent defensive system all but guarantee that a team will consistently be in the hunt for a playoff berth, and the myth of the hot goaltender in the playoffs was once again proven true with each diving, flopping little piece of goaltending magnificence Thomas authored during his brilliant postseason run.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli realized that before anyone.

Rinnes contract pushes Thomas 5 million-per-season pact down to the 11th-highest salary cap figure for a goalie, and certifies just how valuable Bostons franchise goaltender has become since he signed his deal three years ago.

Just little more than a year ago, Chiarelli was harangued from seemingly all corners of the hockey world for handing an aging goaltender in Thomas such a deal. The Bruins were having salary cap issues, and many called for Chiarelli to deal Thomas.

But Chiarelli wisely held on to Thomas through his hip struggles after receiving only middling offers for him two summers ago, and then reaped the full benefits when Thomas won the Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup while putting together one of the best seasons in the modern era of goaltending. The tight cap situation, meanwhile, was eventually settled when Marc Savard was lost to a concussion and Marco Sturm was traded away for a bag full of nothing.

So those who argued it was a troublesome contract for the Bruins and, yes, I am raising my hand while I type this away on my keyboard now have to admit that Chiarelli and the Bruins got good, old-fashioned value for Thomas.

Its become even better with a motley goaltending crew of Rinne, Bryzgalov, Henrik Lundqvist, Cam Ward, Ryan Miller, Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff, Cristobal Huet, Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur all earning more money than what the best goaltender in the world will bank.

The Rinne deal could also set fellow Finnish countrymen Tuukka Rask off wondering just how much he could earn if he were dealt to another team.

But thats a story for another day.

This weeks story is about a goaltender entering his prime in Nashville that just signed a lucrative new deal, and about a 37-year-old puck-stopping war horse in Boston who's become the hot new trend in an NHL world where everybody wants to be like the champs.

Injuries have created a muddled picture with Bruins goaltenders

Injuries have created a muddled picture with Bruins goaltenders

It’s hard to believe that it’s already come to this, but it might just be Malcolm Subban between the pipes for the Bruins on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Wild, and perhaps again on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

The 22-year-old Subban has been pulled from two ineffective starts for the P-Bruins in four AHL starts this season (.846 save percentage and a 4.50 goals against average in four games) while coming back from last year’s fractured larynx injury. He's also a player the organization was uncertain enough about that they signed veteran backup Anton Khudobin to a two-year deal on the July 1 open of NHL free agency.

Subban attributed his start to a slow opening few weeks with a new P-Bruins roster of players, but that hasn’t stopped fellow P-Bruins goalie Zane McIntyre from putting up excellent numbers between the pipes in the early going.

But Khudobin went down with an injury mere minutes into Monday morning’s Bruins practice at Warrior Ice Arena, and Tuukka Rask been battling a nagging leg injury since the season opening win against the Blue Jackets.

So Subban was the last goalie standing on Monday as an emergency recall from Providence, and could be in line to play Tuesday night against the Wild if the Bruins medical staff can’t perform some Mr. Miyagi-style healing techniques on Rask or Khudobin.

“Khudobin got injured and couldn’t practice with us, but I haven’t heard anything yet [on an update],” said Julien following practice. “This is hockey. We deal with it on daily basis with the injuries. We wait for the news and then it’s about doing your job as it’s required. If we have to make some adjustments and have to have some different personnel, then we’ll deal with it when we have more of an update. Tuukka is still day-to-day, so nothing is changed there.

“We’re in a situation here where we’ll see what happens, and if [Subban] needs to go in goal then he’ll go in goal. It’s as simple as that. As a coach, there’s one thing that worries me and that’s ‘stop the puck.’ I’m not a goalie coach, so I’m just demanding on making the saves.”

Subban, of course, hasn’t been making the saves down in Providence early in the going there this season, and is entering the stage of his career where he needs to begin showing signs of being a potential No. 1 guy at the NHL level.

Fellow goalies from the 2012 NHL draft class like Andrei Vasilevskiy, Joonas Korpisalo, Matt Murray, Connor Hellebuyck and Frederik Andersen have all begun making their mark in the league, and Subban was selected higher than all of them except for Tampa’s Vasilevskiy. So in the final year of his entry level deal it’s high time for the 22-year-old to begin showing signs he can play in the league, whether it’s in Boston or elsewhere.

He admitted on Monday he might have been putting too much pressure on himself down in Providence while watching the injury issues play out with Tuukka Rask in Boston.

Subban was worried about the big picture of stringing together saves so he was the guy called up if the Bruins needed a goalie, and instead should have been focusing more on the present opponents at the AHL level.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself. I think anybody that knows me well knows that. I don’t like to let in goals no matter what happens, whether it’s breakdowns or not it’s my job [to stop the puck]. If there were no breakdowns then you wouldn’t need a goaltender,” said Subban. “I want to make every save and get a shutout every game. I think the biggest thing is just relaxing and playing, and knowing that it’s okay to let a goal in every once in a while.

“So I think in my position right now I’m supposed to be playing really well down there, and I think that go in my head a little bit. I was trying to get a shutout every game rather than going game-by-game and shot-by-shot. I was overthinking it too much. But collectively as a team we’re a new team and we were trying to get the chemistry together, and once we do that the D-zone will be better and the offensive zone game will come.”

If Subban does indeed get the emergency start on Tuesday night against the Wild, the Bruins just have to hope that it’s a better outing than getting pulled in his NHL debut against the Blues two seasons ago after allowing three goals on three straight shots to start the second period. They also have to hope that Rask or Khudobin get well quick given Boston’s shaky situation on defense in front of the goaltender, and the stretch they’re in of playing six straight opponents that qualified for last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

If not then watch out below because every hockey person knows there’s no quicker way for a hockey club to really begin imploding than if the goaltending starts to become a major problem whether it’s because of injury, inconsistent performance or simply because of being a straight-up sieve.

McQuaid cleared to play, nearing return to Bruins lineup


McQuaid cleared to play, nearing return to Bruins lineup

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- It was a bitter pill for Adam McQuaid to sit out the first five games of this season, but it looks like the veteran Bruins stay-at-home defenseman is nearing a return to the lineup. McQuaid was cleared to potentially play in Saturday’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens after an upper body injury kept him shelved for the team’s first four games, and could be approaching a return in the next few days as Claude Julien mulls a number of possible lineup changes.

“It was obviously frustrating, but I’m where I’m at now and trying to move on from it. Looking forward to getting back into the lineup hopefully as soon as possible here,” said the 30-year-old McQuaid, who had a goal and nine points in 64 games for the Black and Gold last season. “The excitement level is high for me, and it is for everybody after a loss when you’re looking forward to getting back out there.

“It would have been nice to have started the season with the guys, but you can’t change that now. I’ve had some good practices, and I’m just trying to my game as simple as possible, and take it as it comes. Obviously guys have played some games and it’s been a couple of weeks for me, so I’ll just have to keep my game simple.”

The B’s bench boss indicated it was only a matter of time before McQuaid makes his 2016-17 regular season debut, but that he’s got plenty of things to decide prior to dropping the puck against the Wild.

“[McQuaid] was cleared last game. I haven’t made any decisions based for [Tuesday night vs. Minnesota]. There’s a lot of things that are up in the air, and I’ve just go to juggle those things,” said Julien. “Who knows? Hopefully tomorrow morning I’ve got a better picture [of injury situation], and if not then it will be game-time decisions. I wish I could have a better answer [on if McQuaid will play], but I’ve got no answers right now.”

With Colin Miller (minus-4), Joe Morrow, Torey Krug (a rough minus-3 against Montreal) and John-Michael Liles all minus players after the first five games of the season, there are ample options for Julien on which potential blueliner to bump up to the press box. McQuaid is just happy he’s getting closer to a return while skating with 23-year-old Rob O’Gara at practice, and he can get back to helping a B’s team that’s smack dab in the middle (ranked 15th allowing 3.0 goals per game) of the NHL for team defense this season.