Bruins

No. 1 Star is a nice thing for Rask, but it's a little early for "I told you so"

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No. 1 Star is a nice thing for Rask, but it's a little early for "I told you so"

First off let’s congratulate Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask for nabbing the NHL’s No. 1 Star for the month of December. 

He’s turned things around after struggling over most of the first two months of the season, and both Rask and the Bruins have been consistently good since he was benched for four consecutive games in the middle of November. It would be a stretch to say that Rask has stolen games for the Bruins since coming back, or that he’s gone to some superhuman level of play between the pipes not seen around here since Tim Thomas on his way to a Stanley Cup in 2011. 

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But Rask posted a 9-0-1 record in the month of December, posted a .955 save percentage and led all goalies with a 1.22 goals against average during the last month of 2017. That is mistake-free goaltending behind a Bruins team that is finally playing at a high level in front of him, blocking shots and keeping everything to the outside like they do when things are going well for the Black and Gold. 

“We just always felt Tuukka was our guy,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who had benched Rask for four straight games to spark his goalie and his hockey club. “It was just something we decided to do at the time, and I think it’s worked out well for both goaltenders. Tuukka has clearly benefited from being pushed because he’s dead-on [right now].”

That’s exactly what they need out of Rask with a young hockey club that’s still going to have some rookie breakdowns along the way. It’s exactly what they’ll need consistently out of Rask in the playoffs if they’re going to make any noise at all. 

But let’s just put a caution flag on the gloating and “I told you so’s” from the Tuukka Rask apologist crew out there. They were out in full force on twitter on Tuesday as Rask was crowned as the No. 1 Star of the month in a nice little midseason acknowledgement of his recent efforts. 

https://twitter.com/jamejoe/status/948238166049337345

Let’s not forget that Rask been dominant for a month here or two months there before, and that the Bruins as a team have been extremely good in front of him with one of the best top lines in the NHL (that hasn’t been scored on yet in even strength), an emerging rookie of the year candidate on the back end in Charlie McAvoy and a team overall that’s seeing their lines and pairings real gel together over the last six weeks. 

If Rask is the NHL’s No. 1 Star in April, May and June like Thomas was in 2011 then the pro-Rask mob will have something to annoyingly crow about. It will be a Tuukkapalooza love-fest at that point, and rightfully so.  

That is his proving ground at this point having not won a playoff series since 2014, and having faltered at points late in the season over the last couple of years once the workload caught up to him, and once the stakes became truly pressurized. 

This humble hockey writer still believes that the Bruins aren’t going to win a Cup with Rask as their main guy between the pipes, and winning the NHL’s Player of the Month in December really shouldn’t change many opinions. It looks like the Bruins are for real this season and Rask is going to get his chance to see what he can do to carry the B’s once things gnarly in the postseason. 

That’s when Rask will get his chance to truly change perceptions and reclaim his standing as one of the top elite NHL goalies worthy of a $7 million annual salary. The NHL’s No. Star is merely confirmation that Rask has resoundingly reclaimed his game for this season, and that the Bruins are getting the goaltending they’re relying on him to provide on a nightly basis. 

That’s a good thing, but it’s also exactly what he’s chewing up a big chunk of the B’s salary cap to go out and do. 

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Highlights from Bruins' 4-3 win over Flyers

Highlights from Bruins' 4-3 win over Flyers

FINAL SCORE: Bruins 4, Flyers 3

In Brief: The Bruins started out quickly, scoring two goals in the first before adding a short-handed goal from Chris Wagner in the second and an early third-period goal to put them up 4-0. Philadelphia made it interesting, though, and scored three goals in the third, including two in less than two minutes, before the Bruins finished strong and got the W. Lee Stempniak led the way with a goal and two assists. 

Bruins Preseason Record: 5-0-1

Highlights:

Shorthanded goal: 

What's Next:

WEDNESDAY: vs. Red Wings, 7 p.m.
SATURDAY: vs. Flyers, 6 p.m. (end of exhibition season)

Faster, stronger Ryan Donato a favorite to win a Bruins' forward spot

Faster, stronger Ryan Donato a favorite to win a Bruins' forward spot

BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s not a lock until the puck drops opening night on Oct. 3, but it certainly looks like Ryan Donato is going to start this season just as he finished last year. That means Donato will be suiting up for the Bruins in a top-9 winger role where his offensive skills and natural hockey instincts can be used as a big asset for the Black and Gold.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising given that Donato finished strong with five goals and nine points in 12 regular season games once he’d signed out of Harvard, and then the 22-year-old found his way into the B’s lineup at the end of the playoffs as well. At this point Donato finds himself with a couple of different options dependent on the way the rest of the lineup shakes out, but as it stands now it looks like he’ll be either right wing on David Krejci’s line, or manning his natural left wing spot in a third line role with a center to be named later and David Backes.

It’s interesting that the Bruins shied away from using Donato on the right side during last year’s playoffs, but he’s certainly being viewed in a different light this fall after getting some NHL experience under his belt.

“Some of it is circumstance, right? We’re looking to fill that spot. Danton Heinen has looked really good [on the right side] from what I’ve been told. Those are probably options A and B to play on that right side [with Krejci]. I just think coming in at that time of the year last year, [for Donato] it was ‘get one position down.’ He’s got a little more experience under his belt and with the training he’s put in he’s stronger and faster,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Maybe in tight spaces he’ll be stronger on pucks on that off side. But we’ll see. He’s been fine on both sides.”

Either spot would put him in a good position to create offense, obviously, but the right wing position alongside Krejci and Jake DeBrusk would certainly a little more of a premium spot for a talented, natural goal-scorer.

“One thing about Ryan is that he doesn’t overthink things. He just plays no matter what side of the ice he’s on. His strength is still offense,” said Cassidy. “He’s going to produce there no matter which side he’s on. Donato is a bit of a wild card. He doesn’t have a lot of experience, but we like where he’s at. We think that when he’s ‘on’ he can certainly [play a top-6 role]. He’s proven he can score in a short period of time in this league, and he’s doing it again in the exhibition season.”

To Donato’s credit, he’s not taking anything for granted and has the attitude that he needs to win an NHL roster spot with his work in training camp. So far he’s been very good and it’s clear to everybody that the 22-year-old got bigger, stronger and maybe even a little faster over the summer after diligently putting in the work at the B’s practice facility. It was one of Donato’s goals to get in the best position to win a spot on Boston’s roster out of camp and he’s most definitely done that with just three exhibition games left to go in the preseason.

“I trained hard this summer. I think they know my abilities and they know that I trained really hard this summer before coming in to compete for a job,” said Donato. “I’d be cutting myself short if I didn’t believe in my abilities to be a contender for any position on this team. So I want to work hard and hopefully I get to earn a spot.”

With a spot seemingly wrapped up for Donato, the question now becomes whether or not he can produce enough to cement his spot in the top-6, or play a good enough two-way game to be a third liner. If he can score goals and help make the second line a viable offensive force that would take care of one need that this Bruins team clearly had during their second round postseason series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Regular season games are the only proving ground to see whether Donato is a 20-30 goal-scorer or a guy like that Frank Vatrano that teased with flashes without ever actually truly developing at the NHL level. This humble hockey writer is betting more on the former than the latter for Teddy’s oldest boy, but time will tell on all of this for another Donato in Boston.   

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