Tuukka Rask

Rask blowing up his reputation as a slow starter with dominant October for B's

Rask blowing up his reputation as a slow starter with dominant October for B's

BRIGHTON, Mass – While so much of this first encouraging couple of weeks has been familiar for the Boston Bruins, one thing is a little different when it comes to the start of the season.

For the first time in a while, goalie Tuukka Rask is getting off to a strong start in the month of October. Last season Rask, of course, battled through a rough first month that ended with a personal leave of absence at the start of November. The numbers over the last five seasons of Octobers for Rask have been pretty brutal.

Whether it was last season’s 3.15 goals and against and .902 save percentage, or a 1-3-2 start with a 2.93 goals against average and .896 save percentage in 2017-18, or a 3.29 goals against average and .889 save percentage in 2015-16, it’s pretty clearly the worst month of the season for him. Over the course of his career, October features his highest career goals against average (2.49) and his lowest career save percentage (.915) of any month in the NHL regular season.

Even Rask has admitted in the past that it takes a while to get the engine going, particularly as a 32-year-old goalie preparing for the rigors of an entire regular season.

But that is not the case this time around.

Rask has been excellent in the first two weeks of the regular season and sits fourth in the entire NHL in both goals against average (1.33) and save percentage (.957) at this early juncture of the year. It’s something that has not gone unnoticed by the Bruins with Boston up at the top of all the defensive and goaltending categories along with the Anaheim Ducks team they will face on Monday afternoon.

“We’re still working on our game like every other team, and I thought that’s where Tuukka [Rask] really stepped up,” said Bruce Cassidy of Rask, who stopped all 31 of the shots he faced for his first shutout of the season Saturday night in a 3-0 win over the Devils. “That’s when he should get the credit. In a game like this, I thought that’s when he earned his paycheck tonight. We broke down a lot there, trying to break pucks out and had some loose play. He was really good.

“Our goaltending has been solid. We knew that coming in [with] two veteran, professional guys.”

Is there anything that Rask himself attributes it to after traditionally struggling so much to get going early in the season?

“I don’t know. We’re playing good,” said Rask. “When you finish your season in June it helps everybody to give you that feeling in the back of your head that you want to play this game. System-wise I think we’ve been pretty solid, so I’m just tagging along there.”

Certainly there is more there than Rask casually saying that he’s “tagging along” with the rest of the Bruins off to a 4-1-0 start. The real question now is just how good can Rask be this season if he doesn’t have that traditional subpar month of October to drag him down as he’s well on his way to blowing up that well-worn narrative about him during his time in Boston. 

Now he just needs to keep going for a few more weeks until the calendar turns to November and December, which have always been among his months as an NHL goaltender. 

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The elite Bruins team is off to a great start, and they're going to need every bit of it

The elite Bruins team is off to a great start, and they're going to need every bit of it

The Bruins know that things like fatigue, and “the wall” they are inevitably going to hit, will be waiting for them in the second half of the regular season.

It’s just a byproduct of playing an extra 24 games last season and sporting a roster with so many key players that have already crossed over into their 30’s and 40’s, and it’s something the Bruins are fully expecting to happen.

That means it was incumbent on the Black and Gold to build up as many points as possible in the early portions of the season when their skating legs were fresh, and they could perhaps take advantage of less rust gathered after playing high-intensity hockey into the middle of June. The Bruins are doing exactly that according to plan right now after dispatching the New Jersey Devils by a 3-0 score in Saturday night’s home opener at TD Garden.

It wasn’t a perfect game by any means from the Bruins, and certainly the hapless nature of a Devils team off to an 0-3-2 start to the regular season would indicate that Jersey is having some early issues this year.

But the Bruins rode their power with goals from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and they rode their depth with a score from fourth liner Joakim Nordstrom in his second game from an injury that sidelined him the entire preseason.

They also rode their No. 1 goaltender with Tuukka Rask making 31 saves in his first shutout of the season while showing zero issues after his dehydration issues in Vegas. In other words, the Bruins are once again an extremely well-rounded hockey team this season that’s going to be among the best in the Atlantic Division, and in the NHL.

We knew that going into the year based on last year’s Stanley Cup Final run, but the Bruins are leaving no doubt with an excellent start even though they are far from clicking on all cylinders right now.

“I don’t think we’ve stolen a lot of points here. Our goaltending has been solid; we knew that coming in. Two veteran, professional guys, so our D corps intact. We have two guys (Kevan Miller, John Moore) injured going into this season; we knew that, but the other guys have given us some chemistry, so we know that defensive part of our game,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s the offensive part we’ve been working on. [We’re working on] a little chemistry up front. You start to see that come around. It was good enough to win the first two games, barely, but good enough.

“Now, you’re starting to see a little more up and down the lineup, guys creating. I think we’re full value for our record, but I do believe that our exits out of our zone have to pick up. We have to be cleaner with our managing the puck, and then some second chances around the net for some of the other lines to get rewarded. I think Krejci’s line did more of that [in] the last two games, unfortunately one got called back [on video review] so not quite there. But they’ve been getting better in that area, so it’d be nice to see them get rewarded for their work.”

The Bruins are once again rolling out an extremely top-heavy team in the early going of the season when it comes to scoring. After Danton Heinen and Brett Ritchie accounted for the offense on opening night, Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak have been responsible for seven of the 10 goals scored over the last four games for the Bruins.

Expecting the top line to provide 70 percent of the offense obviously isn’t going to be sustainable for the Black and Gold. It was an issue at times last season and once again it will be a challenge for Cassidy and Don Sweeney to diversify the offense. But holding those top line players capable of shouldering a heavy offensive burden automatically makes them better than a good 50 percent of the league, and that has been plainly obvious over the first two weeks of the regular season.

“The first few games were a little bit sloppy, but I think we’re beginning to figure it out now,” said Marchand. “We’re kind of getting back in sync. It was a little bit of a different training camp and a different feel because we all didn’t play as many games as we normally do. But we’re feeling good now. It helps when you win and luckily we’ve been able to do that a bit.”

It also helps that both Rask and Jaroslav Halak have been lights out to start the season as well. After two weeks of regular season action, the Bruins are second in the NHL in goals allowed (1.60) per game and second in the league with a .952 save percentage. Essentially their goaltending also gives them an advantage over at least 70 percent of the rest of the league.

“We’re still working on our game like every other team, and I thought that’s where Tuukka [Rask] really stepped up and that’s when he should get the credit,” said Cassidy. “In a game like this, I thought that’s when he earned his paycheck. We broke down a lot there. Trying to break pucks out and had some loose play, and he was really good.”

That elite level goaltending for the Bruins is why they may not drop into an extended slump through this entire season. It’s also one of the biggest reasons why the B’s may sidestep some of that second half “wall” they are anticipating while coming off their run to a heartbreaking Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Bruins may not be blowing people away right now with their level of play, and they are certainly not clicking on all cylinders at this young point in the season. The B’s are showing that they are once again top caliber in the NHL this season, and they are doing what they absolutely need to do by getting off to a strong start to what’s going to be a long, taxing 82-game marathon for them.

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Rask set to start tonight vs. Devils after dehydration issues

Rask set to start tonight vs. Devils after dehydration issues

BOSTON – Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask will make his third start of the season on Saturday night in the B’s home opener at TD Garden after showing no aftereffects from his dehydration episode at the end of the victory in Las Vegas earlier this week.

Rask stopped 31 of 34 shots in that Tuesday night win, but had to be helped off the ice after a third-period flurry closed out the game with what he attributed afterward to cramping and dehydration in the desert.

Rask practiced with the team on the road, but served as the backup for the Thursday night loss to the Colorado Avalanche that closed out the season-opening, four-game swing through the Western Conference in which the B's won the first three. Now, the Bruins No. 1 goalie will make his third start and his coach confirmed there were no issues other than muscle cramping at the end of the game.

“It was a scheduled start [for Halak vs. Colorado]. [Rask] was dehydrated,” Bruce Cassidy said. Rask won both his starts and has a .937 save percentage thus far. “He had a cramp and that was it. It was a result of dehydration. It’s happened to him in the past, but there was no injury as a result of the dehydration.”

With Rask in between the pipes for the Bruins, they will also make one other change to the lineup with bruising power forward Brett Ritchie back in the lineup against the New Jersey Devils.

Ritchie has a goal and three shots on net in his three appearances this season, but he’s coming off a season-low 8:55 of ice time in the Vegas win followed by serving as a healthy scratch in the loss to Colorado.

That means David Backes and Par Lindholm will be the healthy scratches Saturday night and the rest of the lineup will be as follows:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Kuhlman

Heinen-Coyle-Ritchie

Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner

 
Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Clifton

 
Rask

Halak

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