Bruins goalie decisions may become tougher than you might think

Bruins goalie decisions may become tougher than you might think

BRIGHTON, Mass – The good news for Tuukka Rask on Friday is that there was no dark, quiet room required for the Bruins goaltender when he reported to the Warrior Ice Arena practice facility for treatment for his concussion.

Instead, the Bruins goalie got going on the concussion protocol after getting steam-rolled by Anders Bjork at practice on Wednesday morning and started the road back to recovery from his first concussion suffered at the NHL level. In the further good news department, Bruins backup netminder Anton Khudobin stepped up in Rask’s absence and stopped 26-of-29 shots in a winning effort over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.


So now Khudobin has twice as many wins as Rask in half as many starts in the opening two weeks of the season. That’s certainly good for the Russian backup that stumbled out of the starting gate last season but has really fortified his spot early this year with a strong training camp followed by a .928 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average this year.  

“I’ve been there before. I’ve played many games in a row before in the AHL and the NHL, so it’s the same routine. It’s just harder to be honest when you’re playing one game every two weeks or something,” said Khudobin. “I’ll talk to Goalie Bob about what I did good or bad, get ready for practice, stretch it out and warm it up, go get it at practice and get ready for the games.”

That’s in stark contrast to Rask, who has a pair of losses to the worst team in the NHL last season, the Colorado Avalanche, and a defeat out in Las Vegas where he was out-dueled by Bruins castoff Malcolm Subban. The defense hasn’t been particularly good in front of him in those games and the team only scored a total of four goals in Rask’s three losses, but the All-Star netminder was also far from sharp with an .882 save percentage to start the season.

The home loss to Colorado, in particular, was a poor performance from Rask where he buried his team with an early deficit once a couple of soft goals by him in the first period. Compounding the lack of quality play from Rask was his odd choice to cease talking about team performance with the media following the loss to the Golden Knights.

“I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on. I’m not going to comment anymore on team play that much,” said Rask after the Sunday loss in Vegas. “We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

It certainly sounded and felt like Rask was directed to only talk about his own play by somebody higher up in the Bruins organization, and it was that kind of a development rather than the Bruins goalie passive-aggressively dissing his teammates. But that kind of directive from the organization would also speak to some pre-existing friction between Rask and his teammates where past criticism has perhaps rubbed some of them the wrong way.

It felt that way when Rask and David Krejci spoke about things in a tense dressing room in Las Vegas following last weekend’s loss, and it felt that way late last season when the Finnish goalie stayed home in Boston while watching Khudobin win one of the biggest games of the season in Brooklyn against the Islanders. At times in the past, something hasn’t always felt quite right about the dynamic between Rask and the rest of the Bruins, and it’s not a particularly good sign that both parties seemed to already be headed down that path just five games into this season.

All of this makes for some very interesting timing with the Anders Bjork collision into Rask that knocked him for a loop, and has now opened the door wide for Khudobin to start a few games in a row. Should Khudobin play well and continue to backstop a winning hockey team playing hard in front of him, it will make for a much tougher goalie decision than some might anticipate. Rask is clearly the better goaltender in terms of talent, upside, resume and accomplishments over the last eight years, but the question becomes how much is that offset by the Bruins team potentially playing a better brand of hockey with Khudobin between the pipes.

Maybe it’s because Khudobin is the backup and the Bruins are trying to play tighter defense in front of him, but it’s hard to argue the fact that Boston seems to play a smarter, stronger game when the backup gets the call.  

“That’s what I’m there for, but at the same time, I wasn’t thinking, 'Oh maybe [Rask] is going to get hurt and he’s not going to play [the next few games].' I’m not thinking that way, definitely,” said Khudobin. “I was just focusing on my practice. Whatever coach is going to tell me after the practice, then I will keep moving from that point.”

The best-case scenario for the Bruins is that Khudobin plays good, strong, winning hockey in Rask’s absence and that in turn lights a fire under the No. 1 goaltender after he looked fairly laissez-faire in his first few games this season. That’s what everybody saw out of Rask late last season when he was called out by the Bruins coaching staff and challenged by a red-hot Khudobin pushing for some big game starts.

Perhaps that is exactly the kind of collective kick to the hockey pants that’s needed for Rask to start carrying the Bruins team once he gets healthy again.

A deeper question, however, would involve asking how much longer the Bruins want to hitch their wagons to a $7 million a year goalie that needs to mentally recharge his batteries from time to time, and who begins to wilt performance-wise if he makes more than 55-60 start in an NHL season. Members of the Rask Fan Club will point to his career .922 save percentage, but it's been three years since he's been able to consistently reach that level of performance. 

The older Rask, 30, gets, the more baggage is getting added on with a performance level that’s dropped from his Vezina Trophy-winning days. Some of that is clearly about the defense getting a makeover in front of him, but it’s also about Rask just not always being as consistently good when Boston needs him most in the big games.

Khudobin certainly wouldn’t be the long-term answer for the Bruins, and the jury is out on whether or not Zane McIntyre has a future in the NHL as a goalie. So there’s no long-term solution if they suddenly decided to go away from Rask for any reason. But if this humble hockey writer was coaching the Bruins and Khudobin goes on a winning tear over the next few weeks? A healthy Rask wouldn’t automatically be handed his No. 1 workload upon his return, and it would be a couple of goalies splitting time to decide who wants it more.  

That kind of situation might not be up to goaltender controversy standards at this early point in the season, but there’s nothing wrong with making Rask grind for it a little when he does come back after breezing through some early season losses. 


Bruins' Jake DeBrusk hopes to bust out in Stanley Cup Final: 'I have a lot more to give'

Bruins' Jake DeBrusk hopes to bust out in Stanley Cup Final: 'I have a lot more to give'

BOSTON – Jake DeBrusk had more goals (six) and points (eight) in the Bruins' two-round playoff run last spring than he’s had his this postseason (three goals and seven points) as the B's enter the Stanley Cup Final.

DeBrusk was a force last year in the first round when he scored five goals against the Maple Leafs, but it’s been a tougher slog for the skilled left winger while chipping in here or there for the Black and Gold. So, it’s no surprise that DeBrusk says he feels like he might be a little due in the Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. One of his patented hot streaks would be a welcome development for the Black and Gold.

The lack of a hot points stretch this postseason has been tough for DeBrusk to swallow.

“Everyone is hard on themselves and has expectations, but [the points] are not the main point for me," DeBrusk said. "The win is the biggest thing. If you don’t do what you want to do but the team wins then that’s all that matters this time of year. So that does help. But when you lose and you lose a tight game, it doesn’t necessarily creep in there…but you put more pressure on yourself or to be that guy, or be the difference. It just hasn’t happened for me personally.

“Usually for teams that I’ve been on the past I’ve had to be that guy, so it’s a little bit of a different feeling with things not going into the net as much. Goals help with my confidence, but my overall game play itself I haven’t liked at all. So, it’s just a matter of going out and doing it. It won’t be easy, but it’s a matter of doing it for the team.”

It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that it could happen based on DeBrusk’s mix of speed, power and skill going up against a St. Louis defensemen corps that’s long on size and strength while at times short on skating speed. That will be part of DeBrusk’s plan to get some separation on the Blues D-men and get pucks to the net in the kind of old-fashioned net-drive game he features when he’s at his best.

“I feel like I have a lot more to give with these playoffs. Personally, it hasn’t been what I wanted from a production standpoint, but we’re in the Stanley Cup Final. So, there are obviously bigger things at hand,” said DeBrusk, who is at least getting his shots on net with 50 shots in these playoffs. “But I’d like to find different ways to help this team and there’s no time better than now. The way that I’m going to have to play to have success is my bread and butter in a sense. It’s not going to be easy.

“It’s going to be tough. But getting into those hard areas is going to be my focus, especially against those big defensemen. That’s what I excel at. You’re going to take some bumps and bruises along the way, but I think that’s also where I can use my speed. I think that’s a big aspect I need to bring into the series.”

It could go one of two ways for DeBrusk in the Final against the Blues.  

DeBrusk could continue to futilely chase after consistency and be frustrated as he’s been at times through the first three rounds. Or this could be the series where DeBrusk’s work on the second line and his net-front presence on the power play turn into consistent offense and help get him and his team exactly where they want to go.  

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Charlie Coyle opens up about trade from Wild to Bruins

Charlie Coyle opens up about trade from Wild to Bruins

Before the 2019 NHL trade deadline, Boston Bruins center Charlie Coyle went through a trying experience. Then a member of the Minnesota Wild, Coyle was told that he had been traded. However, he couldn't yet know where he was going.

“I had a missed call and a text from [general manager] Paul [Fenton] and so I just knew, obviously,” Coyle said, per Michael Russo of The Athletic. “I called him and he told me I was involved in a trade, so don’t go on the plane. But he couldn’t tell me where I was going yet because it’s not finalized. He felt really bad about it.

“It was so weird because suddenly I’m at a place where I’m not on an NHL team for however many hours. I don’t know where I am. I can’t say goodbye to my teammates. It’s so hard to tell my family, my girlfriend, my friends, ‘I’m traded, we’re going somewhere … but I don’t know where yet.’”

Fenton did say to Coyle “I think in the end you’ll be OK” with the destination. And that certainly was the case.

Coyle was sent to the Bruins in exchange for Ryan Donato and a fifth-round pick. Coyle had grown up in Weymouth, Mass., and was being given a chance to play for his hometown team. And since joining the squad, he has provided a massive upgrade for a problem spot in their lineup.

Coyle has solidified the Bruins' weak third line and has proven to be a revelation for the team, especially during their Cup run. So far in the postseason, Coyle has been excellent, logging 12 points (six goals, six assists) and a plus-9 rating through 17 playoff games. That rating is tied for third-best on the team.

Most importantly, Coyle has proven to be clutch and scored a key, game-winning goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of their series. In overtime, Coyle took a pass from Marcus Johansson and placed it perfectly into the back of the net from close range on Sergei Bobrovsky. It was a beautiful play and one that fulfilled a life-long dream for Coyle.

“I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’d put the net in front of my driveway and either play with the neighborhood kids or myself and score the big playoff-winning goal for the Bruins,” Coyle said via Russo. “And then to actually do it in reality … with my family in the crowd, oh my God.”

Coyle will certainly have a chance to perform well and etch himself into Boston sports folklore during the Stanley Cup Final. But certainly, the Bruins have to be glad about the return they got on the trade for Coyle. While some thought that giving up Donato and a draft pick was a steep price, Coyle has proven to be a key cog for the team.

Coyle will once again suit up in front of the TD Garden crowd on Monday at 8 p.m. ET when the Bruins take on the St. Louis Blues. Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final can be seen on NBC or streamed on the NBC Sports App.

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