Bruins

Bruins won't win Cup with Rask in net, and need to start planning for future

Bruins won't win Cup with Rask in net, and need to start planning for future

One season could be an outlier. Two seasons is a trend. Three seasons is a long-term pattern that doesn’t figure to change.

For the last three seasons Boston’s $7 million man between the pipes, Tuukka Rask, has been more ordinary than extraordinary, and that’s a troubling development. At this point it’s enough to convince this humble hockey writer that the Bruins will never win a Stanley Cup with Rask as their No. 1 goaltender, and that should become a real issue in the next few years as the Bruins build back up to contender status.

Anton Khudobin will make his third straight start Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils, and that makes all the sense in the world: The backup has dramatically outplayed the starter this year. Just compare Khudobin’s NHL-leading .935 save percentage to Rask's pathetic .897, and the fact that the Bruins have pulled points from every single game Khudobin has started.

That’s all short-term stuff, but it's important as the Bruins are desperate for point to stay on the outskirts of the playoff picture. Long term, the B's are aiming toward being a Cup contender in a couple of years, when youngsters like Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, Brandon Carlo, Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk will be entering their primes, and grizzled, winning veterans like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand will still have something left in the tank.

But what of the goaltending?

Rask, 30, still has an impressive career .922 save percentage, and nobody can take away his Vezina Trophy or his All-Star level seasons. But his save percentages have dropped noticeably: It's a combined .915 in the last two full seasons, and is below .900 now. He’s become predictable in his approach to shooters, consistently dropping to give them high, open targets around the net. And it feels like he’s lost some of the competitive fire he had when he was a milk-crate-tossing prospect in the minor leagues.

The stretches where he gives up soft goals have gotten longer, and -- as is necessary with a changing, aging cast of defensive personnel -- Rask rarely steals games when the Bruins are outplayed. The organization has also come to the determination that he loses effectiveness if he plays more than 55-60 times ia season.

In short, Rask is being paid as a $7 million-a-year franchise goalie, but he's not playing like one. And there's four years beyond this left on the contract.

The Bruins will have to play him and pump up his value if they any hopes of trading him in the future. He'll have to be inserted back in the lineup at some point anyway, because let’s face it: Khudobin and Zane McIntyre aren’t the answers as his replacement. The B's need to draft, sign or trade for Rask’s heir apparent, and pave the way for that goaltender to be in Boston a couple of years from now when they're again ready for a Stanley Cup push.

Rask proved he wasn’t good enough to carry a talented Bruins team over the top when he crumbled at the end of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Blackhawks, and he’s been spotty, and oft-times unreliable, in big games ever since. It’s time for the Bruins to begin the search process for a goalie that can take them on a Cup run when they’re ready for it.

After nine seasons, Rask has proven he isn’t that guy.

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Carlo going through learning curve in second season

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Carlo going through learning curve in second season

BRIGHTON, Mass – After a strong rookie season playing in a top defenseman role for the Bruins, Brandon Carlo knew it was going to be a healthy challenge to surpass that in his sophomore season.

Carlo, 21, is certainly experiencing that learning curve in his second go-round through the league while getting used to a different defense partner in Torey Krug and tasked with the high-leverage shutdown duties he so effectively embraced as a 20-year-old rookie with virtually zero AHL experience. Certainly, there has been plenty of good as Carlo is a plus-4 in 27 games and is averaging a solid 18:59 of ice time per game while providing his strong defensive zone presence.

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Clearly, there is more responsibility resting squarely on his 6-foot-5, 203-pound shoulders partnered with more of a free-wheeling offensive D-man in Krug, and that’s something he takes very seriously among his duties.

“It’s definitely a different situation, but I’m enjoying it. I feel like Torey and I are continuing to develop chemistry and we’re doing pretty well on the defensive aspect of things. There are a couple of mistakes here and there, but I feel like that’s going to happen to everybody,” said Carlo. “Playing with Torey gives us a chance to make a few more plays offensively when I’m moving my feet and getting up ice quickly and carrying the puck a little bit.

“Ultimately, I’m going to stick with the defensive parts of my game and let [Krug] take over the offense. I pride myself on the defensive aspect of things. I think we all know that. If he can join the rush and make something happen then that’s great, and I feel comfortable handling things on the back end. Last year, it was me and [Zdeno Chara] back together at all times, so it’s something I’ve gotten more comfortable with as we’ve gone along.”

But there are also plenty of areas where Carlo can improve with the raw skating, size, strength and shooting skills to be even more of a factor offensively than he’s been with four assists in the first 27 games. Clearly. Carlo is never going to be a Charlie McAvoy-style offensive defenseman and his absence from the power play is always going to keep his overall offensive production in check.

Still, Carlo could be more of an offensive factor if/when he can tap into a little more confidence with the puck on his stick. There are still moments like in the victory over the Arizona Coyotes last week when Carlo had a rough turnover to Christian Dvorak deep in his own end that immediately turned into a goal for the Yotes.

The turnover wasn’t the problem, as that sometimes happens to all defensemen both young and old. Perhaps Carlo could have been a little stronger on the puck or opted for a simpler play off the glass, but hockey is a fast game where stuff happens.

The problem for Carlo arrived afterward when it looked like he didn’t want the puck on his stick and it resulted in several icings in a second period where the Bruins struggled to move the puck out of their own end.

“I didn’t mind the turnover because he was trying to make a safe play off the wall and it just didn’t get there," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "It wasn’t an egregious turnover trying to beat somebody in front of your own net or a lazy pass. I think after that he struggled to find his game, and then in the third [period], he got it back. That’s an area that Brandon has to grasp as a young kid, especially at a position where those mistakes are magnified. If he makes that play as a forward there is another layer to cover up.

“That’s where Charlie [McAvoy] has an advantage over a lot of other young guys because he’s able to park that stuff. We went through some of that last year with [Carlo] and he was able to get it back. That’s why we have trust in him. The thing about Brandon is that he cares and he’ll always work his ass off to get his game back in working order. Sometimes he cares too much, and you can’t fault a kid for that.”

Carlo eventually snapped out of it and the Bruins ended up dropping six goals on the Coyotes in a happily-ever-after sort of ending, but Carlo knows that developing the reset button in his short-term memory is still a work in progress.

“I definitely agree [it’s an area to improve] and more experience in the league is going to help me with that,” said Carlo. “I tell myself to [have a short memory] but it’s easier said than done. I definitely learned from [the Arizona game] and I don’t want to grip my stick too tightly after I make a mistake. The coaching staff was great with me after that. Ultimately it was my own mental mindset that made me a little scattered after that, but overall I’m working on it and getting it under control.”

True to form, Carlo bounced back with a strong 20:11 of ice time against the Islanders on Saturday night when the Bruins put together one of their strong defensive efforts of the season. It’s all part of the learning process for one of Boston’s crop of young defensemen who are still learning and getting better all the time.
 

McQuaid returns to first B's practice since breaking leg

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McQuaid returns to first B's practice since breaking leg

BRIGHTON, Mass – It marks just another step on Adam McQuaid’s eventual return to game action, but it was a big one getting back on the ice with his Bruins teammates on Monday for his first practice since breaking his right fibula on Oct. 19. 

The 31-year-old McQuaid has missed 21 games and counting since blocking a pair of shots in a win over Vancouver that ultimately snapped his right leg. It’s been a long road of rehab and working his way back after a fairly significant surgery, but the light is present at the end of the tunnel now for the rugged, stay-at-home defenseman.

However, it looks like there will be a healthy amount of practice time involved before McQuaid has sufficiently knocked the rust off for game action after missing the last seven weeks. 

“He’s still got a ways to go, so I don’t want to even speculate [on a return date],” said Bruce Cassidy. “We’ll start to sort the pieces together when he’s truly ready to play, but it’s nice to have him around. He’s a great guy and his teammates all love him.”

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Clearly McQuaid has suffered his share of injuries over the years while playing a fearless style of blocking shots, throwing hits and defending his teammates at all costs. Just don’t expect him to change the way he plays after suffering a major injury in that particular line of duty because McQuaid knows exactly what his job description is on the ice. 

“Obviously today was a good step. It was good to be out there with the guys, and hopefully things continue to progress,” said McQuaid, who had an assist and a minus-3 rating in six games this season. “It’s tough. Without sugarcoating it, it was [a tough injury]. But you can’t change the situation. You try to persevere through and be better for it, so hopefully that will be the case with this. I felt good coming into the season, so it was disappointing in that way. But I’m looking to work back to that level now.

“I’ve said to some people that I can choose between getting hurt once in a while and missing some time, or playing a different style and probably not playing at all. I don’t foresee anything changing with me in that way. When you get out there, you just play and get into that mindset where you can’t think about injuries. 

It’s going to be a challenge for Bruins head coach Cassidy to work McQuaid back into the lineup when he is ready to play given the six-man defense corps that’s functioning well these days with rookie puck-mover Matt Grzelcyk in the lineup. Still McQuaid is bullishly strong, a Stanley Cup champ and as good of a teammate as you’ll find when it comes to defending everybody else in a Bruins uniform, so it won’t be too long before he finds his way back into the lineup.  

Cassidy appreciates all of those things in McQuaid’s game since their early days together with the Providence Bruins, and bristles at the notion of his injuries being looked at as a liability in any way. McQuaid has missed an average of 18 games per season over his seven full seasons with the Bruins, but Cassidy sees it as more of a hazard of the particular role he fills on the back end. Not everybody can do what McQuaid does, but it’s absolutely needed on any hockey club that’s going to be successful in the regular season and playoffs. 

“He plays hard every night and he’s a guy that blocks more shots than anybody,” said Cassidy. “Yes, he missed the last seven weeks because he blocked two shots in the same sequence. He puts himself in harm’s way and he’s suffered some injuries because of it. That’s the way I look at it. I don’t want to get into labels…I love the guy. 

“The game needs players like him, and the team needs him if you want to be hard to play against. Guys like that are necessary…I’ve heard that [injury-prone] description and I think it’s unfair because [McQuaid] lays it on the line every night.” 

Here are the Bruins line combos and D-pairings based on Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena with both Ryan Spooner (lower body) and Noel Acciari (upper body) practicing and uncertain if they can play Wednesday night in Detroit: 

 

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Bjork

Heinen-Nash-Backes

Schaller-Kuraly-Acciari

Beleskey-Spooner-Vatrano

 

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Miller

Postma-McQuaid

 

Rask

Khudobin

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