Haggerty: Bruins are riding with Rask and don’t have much choice

Haggerty: Bruins are riding with Rask and don’t have much choice

BRIGHTON, Mass – The job of building Tuukka Rask back up to form continues this weekend as the Bruins goaltender will get his third consecutive start in a Saturday afternoon matinee against the Flyers in Philly.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed that his No. 1 netminder will get the call against the hapless Flyers after Rask ended a personal four-game losing streak Wednesday against the Lightning. Backup Anton Khudobin will get a start on Monday night against the Nashville Predators. Clearly, it’s a balancing act for the Black and Gold between getting Rask fully back on track and keeping Khudobin in the zone that’s pushed him to a 7-0-2 record to start the season.

It’s not an easy trick to pull off, but neither was pulling the team back from oblivion when Cassidy made the bold choice to bench Rask for four games in a row in favor his red-hot backup. That gut-instinct move has paid off huge dividends for a B’s team that’s won five of six and is back in a playoff spot after hovering near the bottom of the conference in mid-November.

“They’ll split the games. Tuukka will play [on Saturday] and Khudobin will go on Monday and we’ll go from there after that,” said Cassidy. “Doby, you don’t want him to sit for too long. We’ve kind of documented why we went with Tuukka consecutively rather than [Khudobin] and we’ll see how it works out. We’ll give them one start each and then assess next week.”

Rask has stopped 51 of 56 shots in the two starts against Edmonton and Tampa Bay for a .911 save percentage that’s at least a little closer to his norm from the past couple of seasons, but there’s still an element of shakiness in the goalie’s game that will only be vanquished with a puck-stopping cocktail of steady playing time, some good results, continued competition - in the form of Khudobin - and a solid helping of confidence.

There’s really no other choice but a ride-or-die attitude when it comes to the Bruins and Rask, however. Even amidst his struggles, he’s clearly the only goaltender in the organization who’s going to be able to take the Bruins to the playoffs and handle the starter’s workload that’s still in front of the Black and Gold.

For all of the good things he’s done this season, Khudobin has shown in his NHL career that he’ll either get hurt or wear down over a full season with a starting goalie’s workload and young goalie Zane McIntyre has taken a step back with Providence this season sporting very pedestrian AHL numbers with a .898 save percentage and a 3.11 goals-against average.

Khudobin can certainly push Rask for short bursts of time and could continue to make it closer to an even split of starts than anybody dreamed of at the beginning of the year, but it's clear the Bruins know who they're goalie is going to be when it matters most this season. 

There may be an effort to revisit the goaltending situation this summer and whether the Bruins have to explore other ways to improve their current group. That's something they absolutely should do while figuring out where their goalie of the (near) future might be becoming from. 

Still, the Bruins are doing the right thing building Rask back up into fine working order with this string of starts that continues Saturday in Philly. 

A return "imminent" for McQuaid after two-month absence


A return "imminent" for McQuaid after two-month absence

BRIGHTON, Mass – It sounds like the toughness quotient might be going up quite a bit higher for the Bruins in the near future.

Adam McQuaid may be cleared to play as soon as Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, or at least later on in the week if it doesn’t happen against the rough-and-tumble, Metro Division Blue Jackets. The 6-foot-5 hard-nosed defender has been out for nearly two months with a broken right fibula, but has been back skating with the Bruins for a couple of weeks.

“I don’t know if Monday he’ll be cleared, but he’s getting close. He’s practicing with us, so it’s imminent for him. I just don’t want to pinpoint an exact day,” said Cassidy of McQuaid, who was one of a handful of players along with Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Frank Vatrano, Paul Postma and Anton Khudobin that skated on Sunday at Warrior Ice Arena.

There certainly may be some rust in McQuaid’s game after missing the last 24 cgames dating back to the Oct. 19 injury. Ddding another tough customer and D-zone warrior certainly won't hurt the Bruins. In the short term, the presence of McQuaid could protect some of B's top players like Brad Marchand who has received some questionable hits over the last couple of months. In the long term his presence adds more size, strength and toughness in the defensive zone.

In terms of pairings it would be logical to swing Kevan Miller back over to the left side, and potentially pull rookie puck-mover Matt Grzelcyk out of the lineup once McQuaid is ready to play. But Bruce Cassidy indicated it won’t be that simple, and there may be times when the Bruins roll seven defensemen given their strength in numbers once McQuaid comes back.

“If you take the last guy in, Grzelcyk, [out of the lineup] then you’re back to your four righty [defensemen]. We had mixed levels of success with that, and then it’s a matter of who on the right Is going to come out if he stick with the three lefties,” said Cassidy. “That’s an internal discussion that we’ve already started to have. He will definitely help the penalty kill. It could be a different lineup every night where we go with six D one night, and then go with seven D the next night. It will create good competition.”

McQuaid wants to temper the excitement now that he’s on the verge of a return, and is simply putting in work until he’s given the green light to play. The busy NHL schedule and the lack of quality practice time isn't the perfect scenario for the 31-year-old defenseman to return, so it’s simply a matter of doing what’s best for player and team.

“I’d like to get back as soon as I can obviously. I’ve missed a lot of time, but it’s a process. I just try to approach it like I’m not getting my hopes up too much,” said McQuaid, who had an assist and a minus-3 in the six games he did appear in. “We’ll have a better idea tomorrow. The more and more game-like situations you get in [can help].

“We haven’t gone too far down the road so I don’t know exactly [when I’ll return]. I’m just out there trying to get closer, but I’m excited about where I’m at and the possibility of moving forward. It’s been fun watching the guys, but I can’t wait to get back in there and be part of a winning hockey team again.”


Morning Skate: Senators kind of a mess right now


Morning Skate: Senators kind of a mess right now

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while I still remain pretty conflicted about my thoughts on the Last Jedi. See yesterday’s morning skate for the full review.

*Happy Holidays from the Boston Bruins, who all wore spiffy Christmas-inspired suits into TD Garden for Saturday night’s game against the Rangers. The clear winners are Christmas Elf Brad Marchand and bedazzled Patrice Bergeron, but everybody is a winner when they’re in the holiday spirit.

*Here’s a blueprint for all 31 NHL teams to get an outdoor game next season if you’re really looking to run the concept into the ground.

*Everybody loves a goalie fight, and the Providence Bruins had one last night even if it was more like slightly angry hugging than actual fighting.

*This quick snippet from an Ottawa Senators radio broadcast this weekend is one of the oddest things I’ve heard in a while. No idea what took them down that path.

*Speaking of the Senators, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says he has no idea why the Sens are having such big attendance problems at their arena. I can think of one reason: location, location and location.

*Larry Brooks goes over the Sean Avery memoir just in time for Christmas for all those looking for a stocking stuffer, or just looking for the perfect gift for that hockey rat in your life.

*Hacksaw Jim Duggan dropping the puck for a minor league hockey game is definitely something to brag about. Ho!

*For something completely different: 20 years later, the crazy story of how the blockbuster Titanic ultimately got made.