COUNTDOWN TO CAMP: TUUKKA RASK
Countdown to camp: Tuukka Rask
From now until the beginning of training camp, CSN Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2016-17 Bruins. Today: Tuukka Rask.
If anybody from the Bruins really needs to rebound strongly from last season and still has the capability of rebounding from said performance, it’s Tuukka Rask. The Bruins netminder had a down season behind a dreadful defensive corps. He then ended his year on a sour note by being too sick to play in the final game of the season vs. the Ottawa Senators with the playoffs on the line. That certainly should have left a bad taste in the Finnish goalie’s mouth and should leave plenty of motivation to return to elite form this season. This is a big year for Rask in Boston and it could very much go in one of two directions depending on his response.
What happened last year
Rask got off to a terrible start with a 3.29 goals-against average and an .889 save percentage during the month of October, and stabilized while never fully returning to past form between the pipes. His numbers have been in decline in each of the past three seasons as the quality of players in front of him have downgraded, and his .915 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average were his worst numbers as the starter for Boston. While the goalie clearly deserves plenty of blame for last season’s situation, there are only so many Grade-A chances that any goaltender is going to stop behind a mistake-prone, soft and sloppy defense. That turned out to be the bad combo for the Black and Gold last season and there were times where the normally cool Rask seemed pretty frazzled by the deteriorating situation going on around him. A long offseason should do much to recharge the batteries and refresh the old internal computer, but Rask has plenty to bounce back from after last season.
Questions to be answered this season
Rask needs to show that he still has the No. 1 goaltender game to be the man for the Bruins and prove that he’s more than a “system goaltender” only capable of performing when a top defense is constantly clearing the way in front of him. Rask clearly needs to be at his best from the very start of the season - he wasn’t last year - and needs to be on his “A” game consistently given the Grade A chances that will be coming his way. There are some that believe Rask was a byproduct of Claude Julien’s system coaching and benefitted greatly from players like Zdeno Chara playing in front of him in his prime years. The belief is that Rask can’t really shine as more of a solo act, as Roberto Luongo did in his first stint in Florida for instance, and that he really needs a certain set of conditions to shine between the pipes. Well, the B’s defense isn’t going to be that much better this season, so it’s another chance for Rask to prove those people wrong.
In their own words
“Basically from April to now everybody is talking about our back end, and not being able to land a top-four defenseman. We still have an opportunity as far as cap space goes if something shakes free, and I know [GM Don Sweeney] has been working hard trying to do something. But I feel like as a group we can do better than we did last year. I think Tuukka [Rask] can play better than he did last year. If that happens we should be a better club. It’s going to be a challenge and it’s going to be competitive. But I feel like the changes we’ve made through the organization, and not just in player personnel, that there’s opportunity for our group to improve.” –Bruins President Cam Neely, who is plenty of responsibility for a bounce-back year on his goaltender’s back.
If anybody should be highly motivated, it’s Rask. He’s coming off his worst statistical season as a starting goaltender in the NHL, he ended last year with a rough “calling in sick” situation against the Ottawa Senators with the playoffs on the line and should still be very hungry to prove he’s a good enough No. 1 goaltender to win a Stanley Cup. After all, it’s freedom-loving Tim Thomas who the Bruins won with five years ago, not Rask. That’s not going to happen this season with this group, obviously, but the Bruins goaltender still has plenty of things to prove in the NHL as a 29-year-old in the middle of a long term, huge money contract. The .915 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against average speak for themselves with a player that’s got a lifetime .924 save percentage, and who should look at last season as something that simply can’t be repeated a second time.