Bruins

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.

MORE:

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. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

What We Learned in the Bruins 2-1 win over the Coyotes: It's a gritty formula for B's

What We Learned in the Bruins 2-1 win over the Coyotes: It's a gritty formula for B's

Here’s What We Learned in the Bruins grinding 2-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at the Gila River Casino Arena.

1. Jake DeBrusk is redirecting pucks in front of the net, crashing the painted area for rebounds and generally playing bigger and stronger around the net. Not so coincidentally he’s also begun scoring with regularity for the first time this season and potted the game-winner in the first period on Saturday night when he followed a Brad Marchand shot.

DeBrusk was at the net when Darcy Kuemper kicked out the rebound and was able slam it home for his fifth goal and seventh point in the last seven games. With DeBrusk now heating up, the Bruins are finally getting the secondary source of scoring that they’ve needed to this point in the season. Unfortunately they’re also now missing Patrice Bergeron due to injury and that means it’s not even really secondary scoring anymore. It’s primary scoring, particularly with DeBrusk starting the game on a tinkered line with Marchand being centered by Joakim Nordstrom. If DeBrusk wants to keep scoring he’ll need to keep playing the power game. That’s something that’s come much easier to DeBrusk lately.

2. The real unspoken thing with this Bruins team is how thoroughly and gut-wrenchingly boring they're going to have to play in order to survive this ridiculous stretch with injuries. It’s scrap for goals, pack it in defensively & hang on for dear life just as they did against the Coyotes on Saturday, and like they tried to do Friday night against the Dallas Stars before ultimately falling in overtime. It’s not going to be easy to play that conservative, kind of boring style either.

It will require discipline and a lack of mistakes from the young players being forced into the lineup, it’s going to require playing to step up and score goals while missing so many of their key guys and it’s going to take both of their goalies to bring their ‘A’ games just about every single night. They were able to provide this formula on both Friday night in Dallas and Saturday night in Arizona in back-to-back fashion, but it’s a real question if they’re going to be able to do it over the long haul while waiting for guys like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron to return to the lineup. They may or may not be able to keep up their current pace, but we now it's going to be done in a much more conservative, controlled way for the near future. 

3. The education of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson continues as the rookie was able to jump on a play early in the game and provide some offense for the Bruins with his first NHL goal. It was another gritty play with JFK heading toward the front of the net on a Noel Acciari wraparound attempt, and then popping in the puck when it came right toward him in front. It was an okay overall game for JFK with a goal and two shot attempts in 10:38 of ice time along with a 3-for-8 performance in the face-off circle.

He played a few more minutes than he did Friday night in Dallas and was a little more of a noticeable factor with the goal included. Now he just needs to play a little more consistently and be some kind of a factor even when he’s not involved with the offense, and he’ll really be on to something. But so far he’s at least showing that he can hold his own at the NHL level and that’s a start.

PLUS

*Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson scored his first NHL goal, passed over 10 minutes of ice time for the game and generally looked a little better on Saturday than he did during an invisible game against the Dallas Stars. JFK simply needs to find a way to be a consistent positive factor and he’ll be okay.

*Jake DeBrusk scored the game-winning goal during Boston’s first period outburst and now has five goals and seven points in his last seven games while providing a steady stream of offense. DeBrusk is doing it by playing strong around the net and combining power with his already present skill.

*Jaroslav Halak was brilliant again for the Bruins in stopping 31-of-32 shots and keeping the Coyotes off the board even as they fired 13 shots on net in the third period in a desperate attempt to tie the game. It was good to see Halak back in his usual form after a bit of a rough game while giving up 6 goals in Colorado.

MINUS

*The news that Patrice Bergeron (upper body) and John Moore (lower body) are both returning to Boston to be evaluated by the medical staff is really, really bad news considering all the other players already missing from the lineup. No Bergeron and no Chara could mean big trouble if it’s for a 4-6 week span.

*Connor Clifton had five hits and was a plus-1 while topping 20 minutes of ice time in the win in only his second NHL game. Those were the definite positives. But Clifton also took a delay of game penalty for the second game in a row after flipping a puck over the glass. He’s going to need to work on that.

*No shots and 3-for-12 in the face-off circle for David Krejci in his 15 plus minutes of ice time in his first game without No. 37 in the lineup. Krejci really needs to start stepping it up until Bergeron can get healthy.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bruins grind their way to a win in Arizona

ap_18322071392418.jpg
AP Photo

Bruins grind their way to a win in Arizona

Here are some talking points from the Bruins' 2-1 win over the Coyotes on Saturday night. . .

GOLD STAR: Jake DeBrusk ended up getting the game-winning goal in the first period when he and Brad Marchand played the two-man game on a rush up the ice. Marchand was able to crash the net and get the first shot on Darcy Kuemper. The Arizona goalie made the initial save, but then DeBrusk crashed the net and fired home the rebound for his eighth goal of the season. DeBrusk has been red hot recently with five goals and seven points in his last seven games, and most of that offense has been generated by being active around the front of the net. DeBrusk finished with five shot attempts and two hits in 15:20 of ice time and has really taken it up another notch when the B’s needed him to over the last few weeks.

BLACK EYE: On the good side, Oliver Ekman-Larsson played 26:20 of ice time and generated some offensive chances for the Coyotes. On the bad side, Ekman-Larsson was on the ice for both of the goals that the Bruins scored in a 2-1 game and he took a really bad interference penalty on Jake DeBrusk at one point during the game. While it’s clear that Ekman-Larsson has talent and he’s now the captain of the Desert Dogs, he just has too many wrinkles and flaws in his game that take away from the puck-moving abilities and offensive things he brings to the ice. It’s probably why he’s a career minus-71 despite his talent level at the NHL level.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins looked like they were shot out of a cannon early in the game as they scored a pair of goals in the first three minutes of the game, and did exactly what you’d hope to do with a depleted roster playing the third game in four days on the road. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson scored the game’s first goal and then 90 seconds later Jake DeBrusk chipped in with his own goal to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead. The Bruins simply hung on for dear life after that and managed to survive a second period where they put together just three shots on net, and packed things in defensively with a roster missing so many of their best players. It was a great blueprint to win a road hockey game and that’s exactly what the Bruins did.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jaroslav Halak didn’t play very well in the 6-3 loss to Colorado at the start of the road trip, and that was a second subpar outing in the last few weeks after he was pulled in the blowout home loss to Vancouver as well. So it was important for the veteran netminder to step up and play well, and that’s exactly what he did in a one-goal win over the Arizona Coyotes where there was really no margin for error. Halak stopped 31-of-32 shots including 11 saves in the third period with the B’s closely guarding a 2-1 lead and didn’t buckle even as a hungry Coyotes bunch tried to at least push things to overtime with a lively third-period effort. The Bruins are going to need near flawless goaltending from Halak and Tuukka Rask as they navigate through the schedule with an undermanned roster, and that’s what they got in Arizona.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the number of goals for Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson in his NHL career after picking up a rebound score in front just a couple of minutes into an eventual win in Arizona. Given the high hopes for JFK within the Bruins organization, they hope it’s the first of many.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I thought we persevered. The second period got away from us, and we had a conversation about Colorado and not letting things get away from us. I thought we didn’t do that.” –Bruce Cassidy, to NESN on the gritty 2-1 win over the Coyotes.  

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE