In the NHL, it’s all about the starting goaltenders.
These are the guys that teams count on game in and game out to win hockey games. These are the guys that not only help get their respective teams into the playoffs but win Cups as well. They are the be all and end all when it comes to the team’s crease.
In my opinion, backup goaltenders still do not get the credit they deserve. Their jobs are incredibly difficult as they do not get to play much, they sometimes have to come off the bench and go into games cold, and whenever the starter goes down with an injury, they are expected to get into a starter’s mentality and do what the number one goaltender is expected to do – win games.
One masked man who has proven to be extremely valuable in this role is current Dallas Stars’ backup Anton Khudobin. The 32-year-old career backup has played well everywhere he has gone and has shown that when given the chance to play, he can play just as well, if not better, than his team’s starter.
Khudobin showed just how good he can be back on December 27 in his team’s game against one of the league’s best in the Nashville Predators. On this night, Khudobin would go out and blank the Preds with a 49-save shutout in his club’s 2-0 victory.
It is performances like these that is somewhat commonplace for Khudobin. Year in and year out in his 10-year career, he has put up extremely respectable numbers, numbers that should warrant even more playing time that he has gotten throughout his career.
The most games he has ever played in one season is 36 and that was back in 2013-14 when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes. That season, he went 19-14-1 and posted a 2.30 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage and one shutout.
These numbers are not only great numbers for a backup goaltender, but they would be great numbers for a starting netminder. It should also be noted that Khudobin put up these numbers with a very weak Hurricanes hockey club.
When Rask was hurt/struggling last season, Khudobin was there for the rescue. In 31 games, he went 16-6-7 with a 2.56 goals-against average with a .913 save percentage and one shutout.
Fast forward to this season as Khudobin is once again more than getting the job done. In 18 games, he is 7-7-2 with a 2.63 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and one shutout.
Yes, Khudobin’s record is not great this season, but that save percentage is impressive. If you’re stopping 92 percent of the shots you face, you are clearly more than doing your job between the pipes.
The Stars are very lucky to have Khudobin. Yes, they have a very good starter in Ben Bishop, who has posted very good numbers so far this season in 23 games (12-9-1 with a 2.31 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage, and two shutouts), but he is usually very injury prone so if he ever goes down, they will be set in goal.
Yes, Khudobin is a backup, but all he does when he’s in goal is to provide steady goaltending and play like a starter. It’s time for him to get the credit he deserves.
Photo: The Canadian Press