PROVIDENCE, RI There were plenty of nervous Bruins executives when word first filtered out of the Czech Republic that Tuukka Rask had suffered some kind of groin injury while playing overseas. It ended up being a minor tweak and Rask has been no worse for the wear since the incident, but the specter of injury has forced the Bruins to closely inspect their organizational depth when it comes to goaltending.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli indicated a catastrophic injury to either Rask or Anton Khudobin while overseas could potentially push the Bruins to recall 18-year-old Malcolm Subban from the OHL for any shortened NHL training camp over the next two months.
That obviously wouldnt be an ideal situation. Its pretty clear that Subban isnt ready for the NHL even if the 2.32 goals against average and .925 save percentage in 13 games with the Belleville Bulls this season. But perhaps there are other alternatives for the Bruins should something happen in the next few weeks while the NHL and NHLPA try to hash out a new CBA.
Swedish import Niklas Svedberg was signed to little fanfare in the weeks leading up to the news that Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was thinking of sitting out the 2012-13 NHL season. After all he was an undrafted 23-year-old Swedish goalie with a few decent seasons in the Swedish Elite League before he helped lead his Brynas IF Galve team to a league championship last season.
But Svedberg impressed during that playoff run and hes been very good in a handful of games for the Providence Bruins in his first taste of North American pro hockey. Svedberg made 18 saves in his first AHL shutout in a 3-0 win over the St. Johns IceCaps on Sunday afternoon at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
It was a great feeling. It was nice to get our first home win, said Svedberg. It was tough to keep up in the game because I didnt see many shots. We had the puck so much in their end.
It hasnt been that big an adjustment for me going from Europe to the AHL. Im just playing the game the same way I did back home. But I also know Ive got plenty of things I need to develop in my game. I just need to keep on working.
There wasnt a ton required of Svedberg through the 60 minutes of dominant hockey for the P-Bruins, but he did make the clichd big save at the big point in the game that is so key for any good goalie. With the P-Bruins holding on to a 1-0 lead when they probably should have been up by at least a couple of goals, Maxime Macenaeur cut loose for a shorthanded breakaway all alone in the Providence end.
Instead of freezing in panic Svedberg kicked away the Macenauer shot with a right pad save, and minutes later the P-Bruins had their second insurance goal. Its those kinds of momentum-building plays that can separate AHL goaltenders from NHL puck-stoppers, and Svedberg at least showed a glint of it on Sunday.
On the season hes 3-1 with a 2.01 goals against average and a .927 save percentage, and Svedberg has shown the athletic ability to make game-changing saves. Hes also made the Bruins coaching staff take notice after thoroughly outplaying Michael Hutchinson during the early going of the season.
Theres clearly a goaltending competition taking place in Providence.
Svedberg didnt have a lot of work, but he made that one save that you needed when it still a 1-0 game in the second period. That one got the bench up and gave us a lift, said P-Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. Hutchinson hasnt won a game yet, and thats a problem when youre a third year guy that we need to get going. We need him to be a good goalie.
But at the same time Svedberg has just been a better goalie, plain and simple. This is where you get into the AHL being a development vs. winning line that you need to balance. Right now its Svedbergs ball to run with, but were going to need both of them. I dont think Hutchinson is that far off. Hes getting hit with one easy one in each game.
There are also some things that Svedberg still needs to refine. Hes shown major difficulties handling the puck around his own net, and his mishandling of dumped pucks has led directly to goals-against for Providence. The smaller arenas in North America also make for a much more congested area around the net, and Svedberg is still getting accustomed to the piles of body traffic in and around his cage.
But those are the kinds of kinks that are typically worked out by players when theyre plying their trade at the minor league level.
Svedberg is a winner. He won a championship in Sweden and hes a battler. Other players notice that kind of stuff, said Cassidy. He got exposed a little on his short side in Manchester and hes still working on picking up shots in front of the net with traffic. Hes not used to that.
But hes very good post-to-post because that what he grew up doing. He also needs to get used to playing the puck when hes got guys bearing down on him. Some of this stuff we knew going in and he just needs to keep working on it.
While it may not be tomorrow or next week as Svedberg refines his game, the Swedish goalie is starting to flash glimpses that he might just have a future in the Bruins organization. Thats music to the ears of all those Bruins front office types that were suddenly feeling the pinch of their goaltending depth with Rask and Khudobin at risk for an injury while playing a half world away.