BOSTON - Anton Khudobin has been rolling for a while.
The B's backup netminder helped Boston return to the postseason last season by winning six of his last eight starts down the stretch, and has continued his strong run into this year with the Kazakhstan native still undefeated in regulation (5-0-2).
Khudobin has made back-to-back starts, grabbing both victories during the B's West Coast swing, leaving Bruce Cassidy with another decision to make regarding who starts in goal on Wednesday night in New Jersey.
"Clearly he's played well. We haven't made our decision yet," Cassidy said following an optional practice on Monday at Warrior Ice Arena. "That tells you we want to make sure we balance it right. Listen, he's got a hot hand. We'll look into that a little bit more [on Tuesday]."
Cassidy did say there has not been a change in Rask's role as the team's No. 1 goaltender.
"Absolutely," said Cassidy. "Not to over-evaluate - his numbers are what they…what we're missing is we need to make one more big play to score a goal or he needs to make one more big save. It's not a situation you go, 'Man, technically he's off'…it's just that one more play that we're getting out of Doby right now."
Khudobin allowed two goals on 65 shots in his victories over Los Angeles and San Jose to improve his goals against average to 2.17 and save percentage to .935, the highest marks of his career. His strong play has not, however, changed his views on his job description.
"My role has been the same. I'm still in the same role," said Khudobin. "Whenever I get the call I'm going to play and get ready for the game. Nothing has changed. I played two in a row, everyone talks about it, of course. Coach decided to put me in against San Jose and I'm preparing like I'm going to play. Nothing has changed."
The netminder also took some time on Monday to reflect on his time in Boston. Khudobin first came to the Bruins in 2011 and was Rask's backup during the B's run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013, before returning for his second stint with the team last season.
"I'm always saying the way I felt when I got here in 2011, I never felt better than here anywhere else," said Khudobin. "I don't know what is magic about it here, but the way I feel here is just really good. I'm really happy with the guys and management. I love the city. I love the city, everything here: stores, restaurants, parks, rivers, ocean. I like everything here. I don't know how to describe everything; it's the just the way inside my feeling. I feel relaxed here."
Heinen Getting Comfortable
Cassidy has seen a change in the consistency and aggressiveness of Danton Heinen's game of late. After an eight-game stint with Boston last October, Heinen has displayed a clear growth during his second go-around with the big club this fall.
The 22-year-old has points in three straight games, including goals in two of those contests, and appears to have solidified a spot on the roster for the time being. He currently ranks fifth on the team in scoring (four goals, six assists).
"Last year's [AHL] playoffs…he was a different player than when he left here in terms of his willingness to stay in the battle and just his growth of winning pucks," said Cassidy. "You've seen it here. A lot of the things he's done well is his second or third effort….I don't think his talent level has changed a ton since last year…he's just developed more of a 'it's-a-man's-league' mentality."
Cassidy has also been pleased with Heinen's versatility, which has allowed him to deploy the winger in a number of different places throughout the lineup, including a spot on the first power-play unit.
"He's certainly shown that he's a much more consistent player than he was last year," said Cassidy. "He's a little ahead of the other younger guys because he's been through it. The fact that he can play in a lot of different situations, both left wing and right wing, he's moved up in the lineup. He's been very effective with [Sean] Kuraly and [Tim] Scahller down in the lineup. As a coach it's nice to have that player that you know you can move around. He slots into a lot of places."
Backes Gets on the Ice
David Backes, donning a red non-contact jersey, skated with his teammates on Monday morning for the first time since his colon surgery for diverticulitis on Nov. 2. While, perhaps, a tad ahead of schedule in his return to skating, Backes' expected recovery time of approximately eight weeks is still on target.
"I assumed there would be more recovery time, but that's good," said Cassidy. "Good news. I don't know that anything has changed in that matter, but at least he's out there getting his conditioning back.
"He's on schedule for whatever protocol they set out. To be honest, I don't even know when his contact [date] is. I'm just happy to see him out there, he looks good."
Boston's successful swing out West made a return to the ice that more enjoyable for the B's alternate captain.
"Good to be back with the guys," said Backes. "Just being around the room and seeing what kind of resiliency they showed on the road trip, getting two wins on the back half of those three games was impressive….to be back in the room with them is awesome."
Backes said he is feeling good physically and that it was his goal to get back on the ice as soon as possible to keep up his conditioning in order to hit the ground running when he is cleared for contact.
"I don't know what everyone else's expectations were, but the docs' advice [was] if it doesn't hurt I can continue to progress and add a little workload on, circulation is good for healing," said Backes.
Here is your seemingly daily Bruins injury update, per Cassidy:
Anders Bjork (undisclosed, did not skate): "Anders will not skate with us, not skating with us today anyway."
Torey Krug (upper-body, did not skate): "Torey is getting a doctor's visit today, we'll have an update on him tomorrow."
Brad Marchand (undisclosed, did not skate): "He's following his protocol. Marchy is expected to practice tomorrow and then we'll have a better idea of what his game status will be…getting closer."
Adam McQuaid (broken fibula, did not skate): "Adam's not skating. He's a ways [away]."
Ryan Spooner (torn adductor, skated during Monday's optional practice): "Progressing well. He'll join us for practice [on Tuesday]."