It’s a good thing when your team has a starting goaltender who is first in the league in goals against average (1.51) and save percentage (.954), tied for first in shutouts (5) and tied for sixth in wins (14). It is even better when you can spell such stellar play with a 23-year old backup entering his second year in the NHL who ranks sixth in the league in save percentage (.927) and carries a better goals against average (2.57) than the likes of Jimmy Howard (2.60), starter for the Western Conference leading Detroit Redwings, Kari Lehtonen (2.59) and Michal Neuvirth (2.68) starting goaltenders for the division leading Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals, respectively.
Unless, of course, that team is the Boston Bruins and your name is Tuukka Rask.
Rask put up some spectacular numbers in his 2009-2010 rookie campaign, leading the league in goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931), single-handedly carrying a struggling Bruins teams to within one win of the Eastern Conference Finals after taking over for the ailing Tim Thomas. Rask’s play earned him the title of “Goaltender of the Future” and made Thomas the subject of salary-dumping trade talks most of the off-season. That story seems so long ago, however, as things have not been as favorable this season for the young Fin. After the Bruins dropped their second straight on Wednesday night, falling 3-2 to the Buffalo Sabres on the road at HSBC Arena, Rask’s struggles continued as his record fell to 2-7-1 on the season after making 32 saves in the loss.
The Bruins just cannot seem to win when Rask is in net.
It was another off night for the Bruins against the Sabres. After defining the start of their season by their ability to close out games once they had the lead, particularly when scoring first, twice against the Sabres Boston produced one-goal leads, but they were only able to hold both of those leads for a combined total for 1:44. Buffalo forward Drew Stafford led the way for the Sabres with his second career hat trick. It was just the third game for Stafford since the Bruins made their first trip of the season to Buffalo back on November 3, where a pair of shorthanded goals paced the Bruins in a 5-2 victory. The Bruins fourth ranked penalty kill (85.9%) was not as fortunate this time around, yielding a pair of goals to Buffalo’s 18th ranked power play in Wednesday’s loss.
Rask, however, had a decent showing in the loss. For the most part, it has only been Rask’s win total, not his play, that has been far below last season. A bouncing puck and scrum in front of the cage led to Stafford’s first goal, while a weak screen and some poor defensive zone coverage led to his second, Buffalo’s lone even-strength goal. Though it was a power play goal, poor rebound control by Rask put the puck right on Stafford’s stick, as Stafford then caught Rask out of position to complete the hat trick. Even if the game-winner can be pinned on Rask, it was ill-timed penalties and poor special teams that were truly at fault for Wednesday’s loss.
The young netminder did not have the benefit of strong play in front of him on Wednesday, as has been the case in many of Rask’s starts this season. The Bruins have been prone to give up more shots per game when Rask starts as opposed to Thomas (35 to 32.45) and score fewer goals (2.11 goals a game in Rask starts versus 3.05 for Thomas). The Bruins special teams have not helped either as Boston’s top ranked penalty kill has given up just as many power play goals (7) in Rask’s nine starts as they have in Thomas’ 20. The only real benefit Boston skaters have given Rask is the Boston power play converts at a better rate in front of Rask (18.4%) than Thomas (17.4%).
Rask is still the goaltender of the future, it just seems as though the future is not yet here as many thought. There is no need to lose faith in Rask as some have. Tuukka has lost his starting job to the resurgent Thomas, but is it really his own fault? Rask has struggled at times, but his only real bad showing came November 28 in a 4-1 loss at Atlanta. More often than not, Rask has had the misfortune of being between the pipes whenever the Bruins have decided to turn in a poor performance on the ice. This bad luck, coupled with some dominating play from the former Vezina winner has made it hard to keep the mustachioed Thomas on the bench and should be credited as the reasons for Tuukka’s fall from grace.
Last year it was Tuukka Time and he was Boston’s savior. That time will come again. For now, I dub thee “Tough Luck Tuukka.”
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.