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What Exactly is Wrong with Bruins Goalie Tuukka Rask?

January 16th, 2014 at 7:53 PM
By Peter Dawson

'Tuukka Rask (April 23rd 2010)' photo (c) 2010, Naomi - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

One could make the argument that through the first half of the NHL season there was no better goalie on the planet than Tuukka Rask.  42 games in, the young netminder was in the top 5 in the league in all major statistical categories, and Pittsburgh aside, was anchoring a team that is a very good bet to make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals.  The question is, has Rask's recent stretch of less than dismal play really a cause for concern?

On the surface, his recent numbers would make you want to say yes.  Make no mistake, the Fins' last couple of outings have been tough to watch. Since the New Years eve loss to the Islanders Rask has played in 5 and a third games (he was yanked a minute into the second period vs. the Kings) and let in a disturbing number of goals (18).

If you do the math, that means that his goals against over that span is just over three and a half per game, to say nothing of his paltry .87 save percentage.  The most significant statistic here is obviously is the win-loss record, which is 2-4.  For a team with some lofty expectations none of the above is going to get this team where it is capable of going.

Now, for the good news, and yes there is some.  Part of the reason for this surprising downturn between the pipes, is that the Bruins' starter is shouldering too much of the load.  Coming into tonight's game with Dallas, Rask his started 42 of the teams' 46 games (tied for seventh in the league).

This will be the his first full season as a starter, and he's likely trying to prove that he was worth being paid the highest salary amongst any goalie, but starting in 90 percent of the games is not a realistic option for a team that is going to need their Vezina candidate in June.

The solution, at least from a management standpoint is trickier that it appears on the surface. Backup Chad Johnson has appeared shaky at times this season, but the fact that he would have to clear waivers to go down to the AHL is somewhat problematic.  Ideally, the Bruins would like to have 24 year-old Niklas Svedberg as the backup, but he only started his first NHL game earlier in December.

Svedberg's solid performance in his first start (2 goals allowed on 33 shots in a 3-2 win) indicates that he's ready to handle the backup role, but if you bring him up from Providence and you've already waived Johnson, well then the Bruins would be in trouble.  Normally, it would be possible for the team to carry three goalies and ease Svedberg into things, but the rash of injuries to the roster, have made that option a difficult one.

Either way something needs to change, otherwise, this conundrum isn't going to go away anytime soon.  The other potential positive here is that Rask's recent cold streak may knock him out of contention to start for his native Finland in the Olympics.  The Fins are tremendously deep in net, and whoever gets the nod will need to carry a team that doesn't have quite as much talents as some of the traditional hockey powers. If the Sharks' Antti Niemi or the Stars' Kari Lehtonen do vault to the top of the depth chart, it might really help Rask and the Bruins going forward.

The bottom line is that Rask is still a top five goaltender.  Every goalie throughout the history of the league his gone through bad stretches of play, and it looks as though his time Rask's time is now.  However, if the Bruins can't figure out an effective way to give him more nights off (whether it be Johnson or Svedberg), then this could very well develop into a long-term problem, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.   

 

Tags: Antti Niemi, Boston, Boston Bruins, Finland, Hockey, Kari Lehtonen, NHL, Tuukka Rask

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