Bruins

Rask brilliant in December

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Rask brilliant in December

The Bruins have often said they have two No. 1 goaltenders in their deck.

It looks like for the first time since they became a tandem three years ago, both Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask are playing that way. Rask continued a torrid December run with a 3-0 shutout victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. That performance gives him an otherworldly .971 save percentage during four starts this month.

Rask was the beneficiary of a Kings team that seemed alternately confused andor asleep after going through a coaching change 24 hours prior. Regardless, the 24-year-old netminder was still stellar between the pipes. With a 41-save effort that included a 20-stop third period, the backup goaltender improved to 6-4-1 on the season with his first shutout of the year. He has now passed Thomas in save percentage (.939 to .938) and goals against average (1.82 to 1.92).

Rask's play has no doubt been a confidence booster this month. But he also got positive reviews after he replaced Thomas last weekend against the Blue Jackets in a tie game and came away with the victory. That show of faith was a brilliant coaching move for Claude Julien, and something that may help Rask as he competes with the best goalie in the world for playing time.

He was good tonight. He was arguably our best player tonight. He stood tall and they threw a lot of shots at him, certainly not easy shots to stop, said Julien. There was a lot of traffic in front of the net screens. He had the quick feet going, made the saves on close-range and was probably our best player.

So he got better as the game went on and I thought he did a good job the other night coming in and kind of settling himself in the third period against Columbus and then he just carried that into tonight.

The toughest saves of the night came late in the game with the Bs holding down a three-goal lead and Los Angeles finally showing some desperation and thats when Rask shook off a play with Kings scrapper Dustin Brown walking in alone. Brown maneuvered through the Boston defense before getting turned away by the young puck-stopper, and his shutout was complete.

You just try to win every game. The team knows what Im capable of and theyve seen me enough so I dont really need to prove that day in and day out, said Rask, who is a ridiculous 3-1 with a 0.91 goals against average and a .971 save percentage during four games in the month of December. Theres no more to prove to them than I have to prove to myself. I dont take any extra pressure on that.

I just tried to save every puck. You dont want to think about shutouts because you might chase yourself but couple tough chances in the end but that was it.

The plan all along was to start Rask at home against the Kings on Tuesday, and come back with Thomas in Ottawa, where hes piled up the most road wins and shutouts of any road arena in his Bruins career.

Claude Julien wouldnt discuss his goaltending plan after Tuesday nights shutout victory, but its all but assured hes still going to come back with Thomas against the Sens as outlined Tuesday morning.

What will be interesting is which goaltender gets the call against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon in an important Eastern Conference match for the Bruins. Juliens decision could rest largely on what Thomas does against the Senators on Wednesday night, but more playing time should be trending toward Rasks direction given the way that hes played.

With Rask standing on his head this month, and the Bruins still without Zdeno Chara for what could be the next couple of games, its certainly worth discussing a little more playing time for Rask. The high number of shots for the Kings indicates a Bs team thats perhaps playing a little more in the bend but dont break mold, and there needs to be some tightening up in front of the goalie.

We have to tighten up a bit. I think we went through spurts in the game where we were playing well and spurts where we werent, Brad Marchand said. You know, Tuukka did a great job of keeping us in it when shots were coming at him but we definitely played sloppy at times.

So its a good thing Rask is playing so well that he can cover for a sloppy group of Bs finding their way in a Chara-less world.

Once the Bruins get past their spread-out schedule (seven games in a little less than three weeks) leading into the New Year, there will be a steady diet of Rask in the second half of the regular season. That much is certain as it has been Bostons strategy all along to give Thomas some second-half rest.

Where once that might have seemed like a risky proposition, one could now make the argument its the best chance for Boston to win given the level at which Rask is playing in net.

Grzelcyk happy to be back w/ B's and confident in his game

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Grzelcyk happy to be back w/ B's and confident in his game

BRIGHTON, Mass – It had to be a bitter pill for Matt Grzelcyk to be sent back down to the AHL after playing solidly for the Bruins earlier this season. 

The 23-year-old Charlestown native was excellent playing in place of Torey Krug in Boston’s opening night win over the Nashville Predators, but his stay didn’t last very long. The former Boston University standout was back in the minor leagues shortly afterward once Krug returned from his fractured jaw a little earlier than expected. Now Krug is again banged up again with an upper body injury, and Grzelcyk has been called up to fill in for Krug during Wednesday night’s pre-Thanksgiving road game in New Jersey against the Devils.

Once again it will be about a focus on puck-moving and power play for Grzelcyk, who is the closest thing that the Bruins have to the smaller, skilled Krug in their minor league system. 

“I was happy with how things went before I got sent to Providence, so I’m just going to try to do the things that I was doing well before I got sent down. Mentally knowing that I can play at the NHL level [is huge], and just going through the experience was positive,” said Grzelcyk. “Mentally my first year I think I was a little too nervous and tentatively with my play, and that’s not me at all when I’m at my best. I’m confident with the puck, and confident with my speed and ability. It was just about going out and doing it on the ice.”

Grzelcyk was okay down in Providence with four assists and a plus-4 rating in 14 games, but he’s been patiently waiting for another NHL call since logging 12:11 of solid puck-moving ice time in his lone appearance for Boston this season. Now he’ll get it in a likely pairing with Kevan Miller against the New Jersey Devils

“He’s a puck-mover. He’s quick. He can get up the ice and support the rush, and he’s a good distributor,” said Cassidy of Grzelcyk. “There are a lot of natural similarities to Torey [Krug] because of their physical makeup, but they are similar [players] with Torey at this level being a bit more significant offensive player. Whether it’s in [Grzelcyk] or not time will tell, but we believe it is and we just need to get it out of him.”

Grzelcyk will get a chance to show that offensive wrinkle and more when he suits up against the New Jersey Devils for his second game of the season after paying his dues with the P-Bruins overt the last month. 

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Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

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Bruins still holding out on a goalie decision for Devils game

BRIGHTON -- Coming off a pair of back-to-back wins from backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are still undecided about what they’re going to do between the pipes Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils.

On the one hand, the Bruins are very tempted to ride the hot goaltending hand with Khudobin a strong 5-0-2 record on the season and a .935 save percentage that currently leads all goaltenders across the league. There’s a school of thought that the B’s should simply keep plugging Khudobin into the lineup until he actually loses a game, and begins to cool down a little bit between the pipes after stopping 63-of-65 shots against LA and San Jose.

At the same time it will be over a week since Tuukka Rask has played in a game if the Bruins go with Khudobin on Wednesday night against the Devils, and Bruce Cassidy was clear to stress that Rask is still their No. 1 guy. So that’s the dilemma the Bruins are facing with Cassidy calling it “a good problem to have” based on Khudobin’s strong play from the backup spot.

That is a far cry from what the Bruins experienced a year ago with the same goalie, and a reason for optimism that their goaltending situation will be better off throughout a long season.

“Do you go with the hot hand and leave your No. 1 sitting where he’s beginning to wonder what the hell is going on? That’s the decision,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We need to keep them both in a good place, and not lose out on [Khudobin’s] good run while keeping Tuukka focused and confident in his game. That’s what we’re battling and I talk to Goalie Bob [Essensa] about it every day. We’ll make our decision [on Wednesday] and we hope it’s the right one.

“It’s a long year so no matter who we use there are a lot of starts. I don’t think Khudobin is going to go ice cold if he use Tuukka tomorrow, and I don’t think Tuukka is going to blow a gasket if we go with the hot hand. For me I don’t think it’s that big of a decision.”

Perhaps Rask blowing a gasket wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world given the way he’s played this season.

The one underlying concern for Rask beyond the .897 save percentage this season is that his game has really been in a different place for the last three seasons. While his .922 career save percentage mark is among the best in the NHL, he has been below that mark in each of the last three seasons while struggling to maintain consistently behind a changing roster that’s turning over to youth and inexperience.

It certainly seems like the Bruins feel it’s premature to label Rask as anything but their No. 1 goaltender, but the pause they’re giving on Wednesday night’s starter speaks volumes about their current confidence level in each of their puck-stoppers.

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