It’s hard to believe that Tuukka Rask has been playing for the Boston Bruins organization, starting in Providence, since the 2007-2008 season. Over that time he’s accumulated a career save percentage of .926 and a goals-against average of 2.16 putting him amongst the elite NHL goalies. His playoff numbers, when the level of competition increases significantly, are even better with a career .930 save percentage and a 2.10 GAA.
Despite his impressive resume it was no secret that last season Rask was slow out of the gate. The entire team in front of him was also struggling to get it rolling. But once he hit November he rattled off an 8 of 10-game stretch where he allowed fewer than two goals a game, losing only two of those games, and set the tone for the rest of the year. But beyond the crease as the season progressed the team still couldn’t pick up the slack to aid a rock steady Rask.
As the 2015-2016 campaign gets ready to start there are a few external reasons Tuukka will get off to a better start and get the Bruins back to the playoffs. For starters, last season when Johnny Boychuk was dumped to the New York Islanders the gaps on defense could not be filled. A year later players like Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow, and newly acquired Colin White and Matt Irwin are far more capable players than the recently departed Matt Bartkowski and David Warsofsky were. Even though the Bruins still seek to add a top tier defenseman the young core they have is much better in front of Tuukka and will help make his job much more manageable.
Last season Boston also lacked a strong back up goaltender. Both Niklas Svedberg and Malcolm Subban could not get the job done and pushed Rask’s workload into the dreaded 70+ game range. This year the back up goaltending will not be worse. Even though Jeremy Smith has the AHL experience in Providence I still feel Zane McIntyre will land the backup spot coming off a stellar collegiate career. He will be able to give Tuukka the adequate rest he needs. Physically Tuukka actually held up well last year despite the amount of games played but with so much of goaltending tied to mental focus and rest it’s there that he’ll benefit the most. He won’t have to play as many back-to-back games either. It’ll also give the team in front of him continued confidence they clearly didn’t have when he wasn’t between the pipes.
And of course with the reworked forward group the Bruins have assembled this summer the focus is back on energy and toughness. Last season you never felt the team played with fire and didn’t show a whole lot of jump in their step. Often Rask was the lone shining star that seemed to be bailing out the lackluster effort. Simply put, the team was not tough to play against and left too many easy points on the table for opponents to steal. Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, and even Zac Rinaldo will add a great amount of depth, energy, and grit the Bruins need. Teams that win in the NHL do it on the strength of all four lines, attacking in wave after wave with those lines. That was not an option last season. The fourth line was brutal, Krejci was injured, and the right wing was nonexistent. This season a healthy lineup means depth, balance, and a far more supportive group for Tuukka Rask rather than just relying on a handful of experienced players and hoping an overwhelmed few AHL call-ups can hang in there.
You can safely pencil in Tuukka Rask for a 5 shutout, .922 save percentage, 2.20 GAA season right now. Do it. But the difference between this season and last season that can boost those numbers even more is it won’t be done in big peaks and valleys of being unbeatable and then being left out to dry. What you will see is a more balanced and consistent effort in front of him. It will allow for more rest, sharper focus, and what I believe a career type year where he will be a Vezina Trophy finalist once again.