Why the Bruins’ goaltender controversy is a good thing for Bruce Cassidy

The battle between Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin isn’t a bad thing.

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask makes a save with his foot as Edmonton's Patrick Maroon skates in during the second period at TD Garden.

COMMENTARY

It wasn’t this way in October and it may not be this way in January, but as Bostonians finish the last of their Thanksgiving leftovers and start to unpack their Christmas decorations, the Bruins have a goalie controversy on their hands.

The differences between Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin are very much noticeable. Rask’s mechanics are beautiful, what you would show a young goaltender trying to figure the position out. Khudobin’s style is much crazier; he often looks like a fish out of water, but gets the job done with unique saves.

What they’re paid and what their stats look like are also two more noticeable tidbits.

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Rask’s 3-8-2 record, along with his 2.91 goals-against average and his .899 save percentage, certainly don’t match his $7 million cap hit. On the other hand, the Bruins are getting their money’s worth with Khudobin, who signed a two-year, $2.40 million contract in the summer of 2016 for his second go-around in Boston. Khudobin’s 7-0-2 record, 2.22 goals-against average, and .932 save percentage have absolutely exceeded expectations after a so-so 2016-17 season.

Between an already young, inexperienced roster, and their bad luck with injuries, the Bruins have been tested thus far. This developing goalie controversy is too challenging the Bruins.

By definition, the ongoing challenge between the Bruins’ pipes is for sure a controversy. But, putting definition aside to face reality, is it more of one guy getting hot while the other is cold? Or maybe it’s a matter of the competition each goalie has faced? Or maybe even the play of the Bruins with each goalie in net?

Diving into the stats of the opponents Rask has faced versus that of Khudobin tells an interesting story. Dive deeper into how the Bruins fare offensively with each in net causes the story grow more interesting.

Khudobin’s nine starts have come against the Coyotes, Canucks, Sabres, Sharks (twice), Maple Leafs, Kings, Devils and, most recently, Friday against the Penguins. As of Monday morning, those eight teams are averaging 2.77 goals per game. In the nine games with Khudobin in net, the Bruins have scored an average  of 3.77 goals per game.

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Rask’s 13 starts have come against the Predators, Avalanche (twice), Golden Knights (twice), Kings, Blue Jackets, Capitals, Wild, Rangers, Maple Leafs, Ducks and, most recently, Sunday against the Oilers. As of Monday morning, those 11 teams are averaging 3.12 goals per game. In the 13 games that Rask has led the Bruins onto the ice, the Black and Gold have scored an average of 2.00 goals per game.

The aforementioned stats will validate the crazy notion some have that the Bruins simply rather play better in front of Khudobin. It’s a theory that makes no sense, but stats show this merely as a coincidence. Good luck finding any professional athlete that doesn’t give it their best because of a teammate that is or is not on the ice, court or field.

Head coach Bruce Cassidy is doing what any head coach in the National Hockey League should do: ride the hot hand. Actually having a hot hand to ride with is something no coach will ever complain about.

For anyone that claims the future success of the Bruins are in better hands with Khudobin instead of Rask, should put the crazy pills away. Sure, that can change as the season progresses. But, as the Bruins look to remain afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Cassidy has a good problem on his hands.

With Khudobin’s play through the season’s first two months and Rask being, well, Tuukka Rask, Cassidy has two guys he can confidently roll with.

Please explain to me how that is a bad thing?

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Coaching staffs usually like to plan ahead of time which goalie they’ll roll with in their coming games. The Bruins’ situation in net of late is going to make that a bit more difficult to do. Until Khudobin cools down, Rask heats up, or until Cassidy gets daring and decides to name a clear-cut starter, the starting goalie will be determined on a game-by-game basis.

Case in point Wednesday’s contest at TD Garden against the Eastern Conference best Tampa Bay Lightning.

“We can of course [name Rask as the starter for Wednesday]. We generally don’t announce that this far ahead of time,” Cassidy said after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Oilers.

“Tuukka – he’s a world-class goaltender. He’s going to get his wins. Hopefully whoever is in there Wednesday, we are going to get a good chance to win. We have a good hockey team coming in here, so we’ll rest for the day and then get back to work Tuesday. We’ll have a better idea then.”

All it will take for this controversy to end is one great game by Rask, or a poor game by Khudobin.

For as long as the Bruins have two goalies that can win games during a time where they badly need them, Cassidy and company have a good problem on their hands.

Like pitchers in baseball, you can never have too many capable goalies in hockey.