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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Bruins' Backes returns to ice after surgery for diverticulitis

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Bruins' Backes returns to ice after surgery for diverticulitis

BRIGHTON -- In a development that was certainly much sooner than originally anticipated, David Backes has returned to the ice just a matter of weeks after having 10 inches of colon removed during surgery for diverticulitis. It remains to be seen how gradual a process it will be for the 33-year-old to actually return to game action given his original timetable for recovery was eight weeks following the early November procedure, but it seems like it might end up being ahead of the two months Backes was initially expected to be sidelined. 

For his part, Backes was happy to be back skating with his teammates and pushing his recovering body after feeling pretty sluggish for the first few days following surgery. He confirmed he’d been skating for a couple of days while the team was on the West Coast, but Monday was his first team doing anything post-surgery with the rest of the team. 

“It’s good to be back with the guys and to be around the room, and to have seen the kind of resiliency that these guys showed on the road trip. The back half of the road trip was impressive,” said Backes, who has an assist in five games with the Bruins before succumbing to the surgery. “To be on the ice and moving around after sitting around doing nothing for too long where you don’t think you’re going to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it feels good. 

“The doc’s advice is that if it doesn’t hurt then I can keep moving forward and add more of a workload on, so that’s the update for today. It’s still non-contact, but we’ll keep moving along and hopefully I’ll be back doing what I love to do on a regular basis. I haven’t been notified that the timeline has changed at all, so I’m just going to keep putting in the work. The more I seem to do the work the better it is, and I seem to be able to do a little more each day. So those are all positive signs.”

For the Bruins it’s clearly a morale booster to see the big power forward back doing regular hockey activities, and serving notice that he’ll be bringing his size, strength, leadership and physicality back to a B’s team that definitely needs him. Clearly the return of another high-end forward would also immensely help a Bruins team that’s still very undermanned up front, but it would appear there will be some other B’s forwards getting back prior to Backes. 

Brad Marchand and Ryan Spooner appear poised to return to full practice on Tuesday with a possible return to the lineup not too far beyond that after all three injured forwards took part in Monday’s optional skate at Warrior Ice Arena. 

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Morning Skate: Chiarelli taking heat in Edmonton

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Morning Skate: Chiarelli taking heat in Edmonton

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading after a rough weekend for the Justice League movie. 

 

*Radko Gudas was suspended for 10 games after slashing at the head of Mathieu Perreault, and it’s an appropriate sentence for a play that has no place in the NHL, and from a player that really deserves to get slapped around by the Department of Player Safety. Some like the Hockey News here believe it should have been a more severe suspension, but this is the right move with a player that’s headed toward a Raffi Torres sentence the next time he crosses over the line. Let’s hope the message finally gets through to a dirty player, but I’m not holding my breath given his past history.  

 

*Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli is beginning to take some heat in Edmonton with a hockey team that’s performing way under expectations to this point. 

 

*All Alexander Radulov wanted was to feel like he was wanted, you guys. The Dallas Stars just so happened to say that to him in the form of money and contract years. 

 

*NHL.com does a Calder Trophy voting poll with their own staff and it looks like Clayton Keller is strongly in the lead, and that Charlie McAvoy isn’t getting nearly the mount of consideration that he should be getting right now. This is the only rookie averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, people…c’mon now. 

 

*It’s officially over for the Montreal Canadiens just a couple of months into the season, and it may be for GM Marc Bergevin as well. I’m not sure the Habs are dead and buried quite yet, but Carey Price as a question mark certainly doesn’t help matters. 

 

*Hall of Famers Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne were both honored in Anaheim this weekend after their Hockey Hall of Fame honors last weekend. 

 

*For something completely different: Here’s a petition for fans to get a home release of the Zack Snyder cut of the Justice League movie. These people thirsting for ponderous, bombastic drudgery in their comic book movies amazes me. While I feel for Snyder and his family given their tragedy over the last year, I think his movies are god-awful and can’t fathom why anybody would be pounding the table demanding to see a cut that left the DC and Warner Brothers execs running and screaming for Joss Whedon.