In a normal pre-season, under normal circumstances, fans normally undergo a sense of anticipation as they get closer to the start of the regular season. Yet for Wild fans, nothing about this year’s pre-season has been normal. With each pre-season tilt, a greater sense of dread has crept into the collective Wild fan psyche. And as that dread seems to grow, more and more questions come into play as well.
Tonight, the Wild face off against the Blue Jackets in Columbus. The question first and foremost on the minds of Wild fans is that of the current goaltending situation. For the most part, fans expected to see another season of Niklas Backstrom backed up by Josh Harding. However, that situation quickly changed after a trip to St. Louis when the Blues’ Brad Boyes fell on Harding’s leg. The result is a torn ACL/MCL combo that now has Harding on the sidelines for the season. The natural choice for Wild management was to put then put Anton Khudobin in Harding’s spot. Khudobin had a fantastic couple of games last season, when the Wild were faced with injuries to both Backstrom and Harding. However, Khudobin did not get the same level of defensive support from his skater in his pre-season outing in Montreal this year like he received last season. That lack of support resulted in three goals in three consecutive shots by Canadiens skaters. If there’s one thing about Khudobin that works in his favor, is that he didn’t allow himself to play the typical goaltender mental game. After that third goal, he pretty much stood his ground for the rest of the game, and he had to, because as we all know, he didn’t have much support on the ice.
While no one in the Wild’s offices are blaming Khudobin for the loss in Montreal, the goaltending question has been blown wide open. And now, if you read the Minneapolis Star Tribune, it appears that the Wild are talking to the agent of Jose Theodore. Of course, you have to read that particular article more closely than just the headline of it. Don Meehan who is Theodore’s agent, owns the agency that also represents Harding. If you read that article more closely, you realize that the topic of Theodore’s availability came up during the course of a conversation that was initiated because Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher needed to contact Harding’s agent to apprise them of Harding’s injury and playing status. However, Theodore isn’t the only goalie that is being considered. The other name that is being bandied about is Vesa Toskala. Besides those two, there are also teams that are looking to unload a goaltender in order to give one of theirs within their systems a shot. Of course, the number has to be right. The Wild can really only spare about $1 million on a salary, nor do the Wild have a lot of talent to deal. Clearly the Wild are facing a goaltending crisis of sorts, and other teams know it. You have worry how much a team looking to make a trade will require of the Wild to get another goaltender.
However, acquiring another goaltender is not a forgone conclusion. You can guarantee that Wild management, coaches, and scouts have sequestered themselves in a room somewhere in Columbus weighing all their options. We’ve all seen Khudobin’s strengths. He has performed very well in Houston. What we don’t know, is how he’ll do as a full-time NHL backup. There is the very possibility if he’s given the job, he’ll play more than Harding did as a backup, because we’re also seeing cracks in Backstrom’s game. But remember, many of those cracks are also the result of a lack of team defense in front of him as well.
It’s hard to say what will happen tonight in Columbus. If the history of our current pre-season is any indication, then I’m sure we’ll see and hear more of what we’ve already seen and heard. I’m trying to be hopeful that the circle of defeat that we’ve seen thus far will be broken. However, it is often difficult to break free from a funk. Perhaps we all need a bit more Khudobin’s positive attitude.