Bruins

Bruins loss, non-call in overtime spoil Donato's stellar debut

Bruins loss, non-call in overtime spoil Donato's stellar debut

GOLD STAR: Ryan Donato was great for the Bruins in his NHL debut. No two ways about it. He showed good hockey IQ, a willingness to work for pucks around the net and an absolute bazooka of a shot from the face-off dots that the Bruins can always use more of in their lineup. Donato scored his first NHL goal in the second period on of those aforementioned scorched shots from the circle after a give-and-go with Torey Krug, assisted on a pair of other scores including a game-tying, backhanded saucer pass to David Krejci for a third period score and finished with a team-high six shots on net in 19:40 of ice time. It remains to be seen if Donato can play at close to this level once the adrenaline wears off a little bit, but it looks like the Bruins might just have themselves another impact player. At worst they’ve got another young left wing with a lot of possibilities.  

BLACK EYE: It wasn’t a very good night for the Bruins fourth line after Bruce Cassidy had to bust up the usual combination, and Sean Kuraly certainly had his share of struggles through the evening. Kuraly finished with a couple of shots on net, a couple of hits and a minus-2 rating to go along with a 4-for-10 in the face-off circle as he continues to struggle on the draw this season. It’s pretty much impossible to go on points as a judgment for how well, or badly, Kuraly is playing, so it comes down to physicality, keeping the puck out of his own net and doing the little things like face-offs. For the entire new-look fourth line, it was a tough outing against a hard-nosed, blue collar Columbus team that isn’t going to give up an inch. 

TURNING POINT: For the Bruins it came in overtime when Brad Marchand was freed up for a partial breakaway and swooped in with a clear shot at the net for the game-winner. Instead Pierre-Luc Dubois wrapped his arms around Marchand in a bear hug, and one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players wasn’t allowed to get a shot off in a clutch situation. Instead of being called a penalty shot or at least a minor penalty on Dubois, there was no call and a real stunning lack of consideration for one of the league’s best players. Do you think Sidney Crosby would have been handed a penalty shot in that situation? How about Alex Ovechkin? Yeah, Marchand’s numbers have been in that neighborhood for three years now, so maybe it’s about time he started getting some of those calls. That could have tipped the scales in favor of the Bruins, but instead the Blue Jackets weathered the storm and pulled it out in overtime. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Boone Jenner was pretty awesome for the Blue Jackets and deserves some credit for getting his game together after a slow start. Jenner finished with a goal and two points along with a plus-1 rating in 13:02 of ice time, and finished with four shots on net, a rugged five registered hits and a couple of blocked shots in addition to winning 6-of-10 face-offs. It was Jenner that jumped in front of the net and pushed home the first goal of the game for the Blue Jackets after Thomas Vanek turned a puck over from Brandon Carlo in the corner. That got the Columbus train rolling and it didn’t stop until they had the overtime game-winner against the Bruins. Jenner played a lead role in making all of that happen for his team. 

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 – the number of players that have scored their first NHL goal for the Bruins this season including Ryan Donato, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Sean Kuraly, Danton Heinen and Peter Cehlarik. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: "During warm-ups, actually, I was kind of taken away. It kind of felt like a dream. I really didn’t even get that warmed up because I was too focused on everything else & just the whole situation. It was an unbelievable experience and it was a blessing tonight." –Ryan Donato, talking about his first NHL game for the Bruins.

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Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

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Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

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Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

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