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Atlantic Division notebook

Canadiens, Bruins show importance of strong backup goaltender

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

Two seasons ago, in 2014-2015, Tuukka Rask played in 70 games, far beyond what the Boston Bruins would have preferred for their primary goaltender. Last season, Carey Price played in 12 games, far fewer than the Montreal Canadiens would have preferred for their primary goaltender.

In the first case, the Bruins barely fell short of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the latter case, the Canadiens fell apart. 

To combat the first situation, the Bruins went out this season and picked up a reliable backup, investing money ($2.4 million total) and years (two) in the goalie, who had played for the Bruins from 2011-2013. And, after the Canadiens cycled through Mike Condon, Ben Scrivens and Dustin Tokarski last season, Montreal opted to pick up proven backup Al Montoya on a one-year deal.

Which is to say backups matter. 

Video: COL@TBL: Bishop makes a glove save on Comeau

But sometimes that's not enough. Sometimes the backups to the backups matter, as the Los Angeles Kings have already seen this season.

The Bruins were put in just such a situation on Tuesday, when word came that Khudobin had suffered an upper-body injury that would keep him out of action for three weeks. That meant that the Bruins had to turn to Providence of the AHL, bringing up goaltenders Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre.

On Tuesday, Subban will make his first NHL start since Feb. 20, 2015 when the Bruins host the Minnesota Wild (7 p.m. ET; NESN, FS-N, FS-WI, NHL.TV).

"In my position, you wonder why it's not more of an importance," Montoya said, of having reliable backups. "Every year you see it. Every year. So I just focus on doing my job and letting that help the team hopefully, going in the right direction.

"But to see goalies fall down and then teams start to wonder about their whole season to me is just astonishing."

The Tampa Bay Lightning have the combination of Ben Bishop and their likely future goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Florida Panthers added James Reimer to Roberto Luongo, with their backup signing a five-year contract for an average annual value of $3.4 million. The Detroit Red Wings have Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.

But the Canadiens might be the best example. Price was not able to start the season because of a significant case of the flu. Montoya stepped in, leading the Canadiens to five of six points in their first three games.

"Some teams understand [the need]," Montoya said. "And then there's others that are reliant on one guy so much that, I don't know. Maybe it's just the way the system's been for so long, you pay one guy a lot of money and you just fill the other spot with whatever. There's such an importance to [each] game. When the big guy's not playing, it's not like it's a night off for the team. They're huge points every single night."

Video: NJD@BOS: Rask shuts down Hall's shorthanded rush

That might be even more crucial this season, with the later start because of the World Cup of Hockey 2016 and the condensed schedule.

"The schedule, just seems like every year gets tougher and tougher," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "So you can't just rely on one goaltender anymore. It's important that you have a second guy that can go in there and play almost as well as the other. You need that second guy. You don't know what's going to happen."

Sometimes, he added, you need three goaltenders. Which is exactly where the Bruins are right now.

Though Rask had an excellent start to the season, with a 1.68 goals against average and a .947 save percentage through three games, he has already had to miss two games because of what the team has called "general soreness." And then came Monday and the injury to Khudobin.

There was more uncertainty, putting those behind Khudobin, Subban and McIntyre, on the spot.

"That's kind of the way the League has gone," Bruins defenseman John-Michael Liles. "If your No. 1 guy goes down, if you can have confidence in your backup it's a huge bonus."

And sometimes the depth needs to go even further than that.


Should Sabres shuffle lines?

The Buffalo Sabres were hit hard with injuries early this season. First center Jack Eichel sustained a high left ankle sprain during practice Oct. 12, and was expected to need 6-8 weeks to recover. The next day, in the season opener, left wing Evander Kane fractured ribs when he fell into the boards and will miss a few weeks.

That left the Sabres scrambling for scoring, initially creating a top-heavy top line of Sam Reinhart, Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo. The players didn't respond the way coach Dan Bylsma would have liked in the first four games of the season, scoring six goals in a win against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 16, but five in the other three games combined.

That prompted Bylsma to move Reinhart off that line at practice Sunday, shifting him to second-line center with Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons, and moving Matt Moulson to the first line.

Video: CAR@BUF: Reinhart doubles the lead on nice deflection

Perhaps he shouldn't have been quite so quick to change things up. According to, in the three games that Reinhart, O'Reilly and Okposo were together, they ranked eighth of the 79 combinations with a minimum of 20 minutes of 5-on-5 time on ice together, with an xGF60 of 4.25, meaning the line would be expected to score 4.25 goals if it were on the ice for 60 minutes.

In total, that group has four goals and 10 points, more than a third of the 29 points the Sabres' skaters have.

Ultimately, whatever Bylsma and the Sabres do to the lines will be a stop-gap measure until Eichel and Kane return. Without them the Sabres have three 20-goal scorers from last season: Reinhart (23), Okposo (22) and O'Reilly (21). No one on the current roster, other than those three, had more than 12 goals last season (Brian Gionta).

Stat Pack

Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand entered the week tied for the NHL lead with nine points, though he had played one fewer game than Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid and San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, with whom he is tied. … The top two rookie point-scorers play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Forward Auston Matthews has eight points and forward William Nylander has seven. … The Maple Leafs had three of their five games go to overtime, and their three overtime/shootout losses are the most in the League. The Carolina Hurricanes are the only other team with more than one overtime loss (two).

Video: NJD@BOS: Marchand rips a wrister to even game in 3rd

Games to watch

Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs (Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m. ET; SN1, TVA Sports, SUN, NHL.TV) -- It's always interesting to watch forward Steven Stamkos play at home in Toronto, but never more so than this season after the Maple Leafs were unable to convince him to sign with them in free agency. Stamkos signed an eight-year contract with the Lightning on June 29.

Boston Bruins at New York Rangers (Oct. 26, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) -- The Bruins thought they'd have a chance at signing unrestricted free agent forward Jimmy Vesey, but the Boston native instead signed with the Rangers. The 23-year-old rookie will get a chance to play against his hometown Bruins for the first time.

Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings (Oct. 29, 7 p.m. ET; FS-D, NESN, NHL.TV) -- The Red Wings slipped into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season when the Bruins lost to the Ottawa Senators in their final game of the season. The two teams could end up battling for a playoff spot again.

Edmonton Oilers at Toronto Maple Leafs (Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.; TSN4, SNOL, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) -- Connor McDavid. Auston Matthews. The No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft vs. the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. This is the first time they'll face each other on the ice in the NHL.

Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers (Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m.; FS-F, SUN, NHL.TV) -- Each Florida team is vying for the top of the standings in the Atlantic Division, making the game between the Sunshine State rivals an important date on the calendar.

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