Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins have their Rask plan, and they need to stick with it

Haggerty: Bruins have their Rask plan, and they need to stick with it

The Bruins and Tuukka Rask hope they’ve refined the formula for his highest efficiency level after another season of mixed results. 

On its face, the 30-year-old would have seemed to have enjoyed a pretty good season with a career-best 37 wins and eight shutouts, the lowest goals against average (2.23 GAA) in three seasons and a strong enough finishing kick that helped push the Bruins into the playoffs. At the same time Rask tied his career-worst with a .915 save percentage and couldn’t play in a pivotal late season road game vs. the Brooklyn Islanders with their very playoff lives hanging in the balance. 

It should be mentioned, of course, that Rask did all this while dealing with a groin injury that needed offseason surgery, and helped play into his inability to maintain consistency in the second half of the season. The nagging injury and first half overuse due to shoddy backup goaltending forced Rask into 65 games last season, and it sounds like there isn’t going to be a repeat of that number moving forward in Boston. 

Rask said he’s healthy post-hip surgery and ready to go full bore when NHL training camp arrives next month, and is on board with a lighter schedule designed to get a more efficient performance out of the slender goaltender. 

“It’s good to get back and I was looking forward to skating this week, but they didn’t have the ice down at [Warrior Arena]. I think they had to pain the lines or something,” said Rask. “I think we are [on the same page]. Every season is different and there are games that vary in physical and mental strain, and you always take that into consideration with how many games you play. 

“I felt good with the [64] games that I [started] last year and didn’t feel like it was too much. If it’s 55 or 65, who knows? I think it’s going to fall between those numbers as long as everything goes the way it’s supposed to go.”

One would actually bet it’s going to be more like 55-60 games for Rask, and that will mean an increased workload for Anton Khudobin as his backup goaltender. It’s not a coincidence that Rask’s best season as a clear-cut No. 1 goaltender was also the 2013-14 season where he played just 58 games, and posted a 2.04 goals against average and .930 save percentage while winning 36 games. The other two top seasons of his NHL career were his rookie season where he appeared in 45 games while supplanting Tim Thomas as he battled his own hip problems, and the lockout season when Rask started just 34 games in an abbreviated season. 

It’s become clear to everybody involved with the Bruins that Rask is a No. 1 goaltender that needs sufficient rest, and is never going to be the Henrik Lundqvist/Cory Schneider workhorse type that’s going to lead the NHL in games started. That will maximize Rask’s effectiveness and hopefully avoid the situation that saw his save percentage dip below .900 in January and February as he hit a mental/physical wall of fatigue.

As Bruins President Cam Neely succinctly said back in April, “we’ve realized over the last couple of years that we just can’t overplay Tuukka.”  

“In the middle of the season, I thought we rode him maybe a little too hard. [Rask] broke down a little bit. Then he finished on such a high note, the player that we all know Tuukka is, and the competitor he is,” said Don Sweeney, back at the end of the year press conference. “He had some injury troubles that he was battling through the course of the season and really came back, after getting a little bit of rest, a better player. 

“He’s a big part of it if we’re going to have success that we expect to have, that he has to be the go-to guy and I think he proved that down the stretch and in the playoffs that he can be that goaltender.”

The other factor in all of this is the consistency of Khudobin, and making certain the B’s backup is ready to potentially play in 25 plus games for the Black and Gold this season. He’ll need to be better than he was last year when his struggles forced the Bruins to overplay Rask, and pushed Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban into emergency backup duty before they were ready for it. 

“[Khudobin] is very capable of playing great hockey. It’s just a matter of feeling confident, feeling like you’ve got the coach’s trust and then getting into a rhythm,” said Rask. “If you play every fifth or sixth game it’s tough, and you’re always kind of rebooting. So that’s not easy. Hopefully he can get into a rhythm right off the bat and we’ll get going as a good tandem.”

It sounds good in theory now to make certain Rask only plays 55-60 games this upcoming season, and it will certainly pay off in the goalie’s performance if they can stick with that strategy. But the discipline will come for the Black and Gold if the pressure comes again this season to overplay Rask at times, and risk running down a No. 1 goalie that only consistently plays like it when given a specific amount of rest during the regular season. 

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Backes and Bergeron return to Bruins practice, may be back in action soon

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Backes and Bergeron return to Bruins practice, may be back in action soon

BRIGHTON -- It was good news when word first filtered out that David Backes had resumed skating last weekend while the Bruins were on the West Coast, and even better news Tuesday when he returned to practice. Backes skated without any restrictions in a spot on the third line with Riley Nash and Tim Schaller, and appeared to be recovering nicely from his bout of diverticulitis.

Backes was initially diagnosed with the inflammatory colon ailment in the first few days of October, with the team estimating a three- to four-week recovery period. If he'd needed surgery rather than the  prescribed rest and medication, he could have been facing a lot more missed games.

Patrice Bergeron was also back skating on Tuesday morning while centering Brad Marchand and Anders Bjork, still sporting a maroon no-contact jersey while taking some light contact during the practice session.

Backes and Bergeron look like they’ could be returning to the lineup soon.

But the injury news wasn't all good, as Ryan Spooner, Austin Czarnik, Danton Heinen and Adam McQuaid were all missing from practice.

Spooner (lower body) and McQuaid (lower body) were both injured in Sunday night’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, and Czarnik and/or Heinen might be ticketed back to Providence soon if the Bruins have to make roster space for Bergeron and/or Backes ahead of Thursday night’s home game against the Vancouver Canucks.

Here are the line combos and D-pairings from Tuesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena with a whole different look to things with some of the different bodies taking part in the skate:

Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork
DeBrusk-Krejci-Pasta
Schaller-Nash-Backes
Beleskey-Kuraly-Vatrano
White

Chara-Carlo
Miller-McAvoy
Krug-Postma

Rask
Khudobin

Familiar faces get the best of the Bruins in Vegas

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Familiar faces get the best of the Bruins in Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Perhaps part of the confused look from the Boston Bruins on the ice Sunday night in Las Vegas was a nagging feeling of déjà vu they never could shake. The Vegas Golden Knights took a 3-1 win over the Bruins for their fourth win in five tries this season, and handed the Bruins their third truly dreadful-looking defeat in five games played on the young hockey season.

It was tough to avoid the feeling that the Golden Knights were basically “Boston Bruins West”, and that was never too far away from notice as things played out on Sunday. Old friend and former Bruins play-by-play man Dave Goucher and ex-B's defenseman "Sheriff" Shane Hnidy are the friendly faces on the Vegas TV telecast, and were on the Jumbotron pregame in a skit with Carrot Top, of all people, to run down the arena's safety rules in a funny and well-produced video.

Former Bruins PR guru and Beverly native Eric Tosi is in charge of the media relations with the Golden Knights, and has been a busy, busy man along with the rest of the Vegas franchise getting the expansion club off the ground. He was even busier this past weekend, albeit with a relaxed smile on his face, as 20 members of the Tosi clan made the road trip out to Vegas to see the first NHL game between the two franchises.

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And there were the actual familiar faces on the ice with ex-Bruins Malcolm Subban and Colin Miller excelling against their old team. Subban only needed to stop 21 shots in the victory, but was able to finish his first NHL start and earn his first career NHL win against the Bruins franchise that left him unprotected on waivers just a couple of weeks ago.

The Bruins didn’t make the 23-year-old Subban sweat much during the game with pedestrian shots that hit the first-round pick squarely in the jersey crest, and pretty much zero attempts to beat his questionable glove hand.

"We know Malcolm well," said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. "He's a good first-shot goaltender for the most part. We wanted to put some stress on him and make him uncomfortable on those second ones, and I don't think we did a good job on that."

But give Subban credit for calming down his mental approach and refining his technique enough to play solid positional goaltending against the Bruins, and gaining some sweet revenge in the process.

Subban wasn’t gloating about it or basking in any kind of vengeance against his former team, but instead just expressed happiness at doing the job after stepping in for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury. It remains to be seen if Subban is going to be able to hold down the fort against the teams that will inevitably test him more than the hapless Bruins did, but he gave his team a good chance to win on Sunday.

"It's a great feeling. I made a lot of friends [in Boston], played with a lot of great teammates and (had) a great coaching staff. I'm just happy to get the win. The biggest thing was just not thinking, staying focused, and staying in the moment. It feels really good to get the first win in your first game," said Subban, "My first shot I got good control on it and that got me in the game a lot. You never know how the game is going to go in the NHL. It’s really technical. Sometimes you don’t get a lot of shots, so you gotta stay focused, and I felt I did that tonight.

“I thought I played pretty good. The biggest thing was my depth and not getting too deep in the net. Give myself the better opportunity to make the save. I feel like I did that (Sunday). There weren’t too many high chances. [There were] a lot of textbook saves and just having good rebound control. I’m happy to get the win.”

Miller didn’t factor into the scoring for the Golden Knights against the Bruins, but he was extremely active with three shots on net and eight shot attempts in 18:25 of ice time. He got plenty of power play time, was a plus player and looks like he might get the chance to develop his game in Vegas that hadn’t quite played out over the previous couple of years in Boston.

The Bruins won’t return to Vegas until next season, but the hope has to be those same Golden Knights’ familiar faces won’t get the best of the B’s when they come for their one-and-only visit to TD Garden at the beginning of November.

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