It’s that time of year, folks. The lockers are being emptied and the golf clubs are coming out. Because in the end only one team can say they won it all and it won’t be the 2016-2017 Boston Bruins doing that kind of chirping come June. Their season officially died on Sunday at 6:00pm due to complications from a suffocating trap.
It’s time to write the obituary.
It was an aggravating, maddening, and at times exciting ride the B’s took us on this season. But it was a step in the right direction. That’s not something anyone could confidently say about the past few of campaigns we’ve endured. So the first thing we want to examine as we spread the ashes of this season is the position everyone loves to hate; goaltending.
This one is pretty simple to dissect. The Bruins overworked Tuukka Rask in the regular season like an ox plowing a field. They whipped him through every trench they could create. A coaching was coaching to save his job, the forwards weren’t providing run support, and the relievers in net weren’t getting it done. Much like the previous two seasons the only way to the postseason seemed to be Tuukka or bust.
But it can’t just be Tuukka or bust to win. Just like it can’t be that way with Price, Lundqvist, Schneider, or Rinne either. Just go check their jewelry boxes for rings and get back to me with how many you find. Goalies absolutely can be game changing great but they need help. Believe it or not, goalies usually don’t score the goals or play shitty defense. That may be hard for some on social media to grasp from mom’s basement.
Tuukka eventually did get help. Claude Julien was fired and immediately the run support started coming. The offensive leash was lengthened and defensemen (gasp!) were allowed to join in on the fun by new coach Bruce Cassidy. And low and behold backup tendy Anton Khudobin started making saves too. It was a good enough mix to get the Bruins into the post season for the first time in three years.
So how do we rate the performances between the pipes?
Tuukka Rask, (.915 SV%, 2.23 GAA, 8 SO) gets an A-. He’s the only reason the B’s stayed in the race early in the season. He was outstanding. As his workload increased his game slipped a bit during the dog days of the season when Bruins faced the guns of the NHL like Washington, Toronto, Anaheim, and the New York Rangers. It doesn’t excuse less than acceptable performances but just like an ace in a starting rotation sometimes you don’t have your best stuff. Shit happens from time to time especially when that player is gassed.
I mean let’s face it, Rask should play 55-60 regular season games. That’s the sweet spot. The past few years the trend has been 65-70. But after a nice five day rest in March when his workload had hit it’s max capacity and nagging injuries crept in, Rask went off, going 4-0-1 to close out the season with an absurd .970 SV% (plus two shutouts) that sealed a playoff spot. He was also the B’s anchor in the playoffs. I’ve never been above questioning Rask over the years, mainly in terms of missing some key games. I think that’s fair. But I can’t question his ability.
Anton Khudobin on the other hand (.904 SV%, 2.64 GAA, 0 SO) can be questioned. I give him a C. It’s one thing to have the odd bad game and you just move on but it’s entirely another thing when you’re concerned every single shot is going to go in the net. That’s about where Khudobin’s play was for the first four months of season. His poor .885 SV% through December really screwed things up for the Bruins. It taxed Rask physically and led to the B’s sending Khudobin to Providence. And he wasn’t going to Rhode Island to enjoy The Foxy Lady. He had work to do.
Luckily, Dobby figured it out before it was too late, going 6-1-0 with a .922 SV% to end the season back in Boston. His finish kept him from putting up a season long stinker and significantly helped the Bruins secure a playoff spot.
And while we’re talking goalies I might as well give Malcolm Subban, C- (.917 SV%, 2.41 GAA, 1 SO) and Zane McIntyre, A (.930 SV%, 2.03 GAA, 2 SO) a little ink here too.
Subban got a second crack at the NHL back in October during Khudobin’s disastrous stretch of play and he was equally as disastrous as Dobby. Subban gave up three relatively soft goals and lasted just halfway through his game against the Minnesota Wild in what was his only NHL action of the season. But in 32 AHL games he cleaned it up. I think it’s pretty clear the 2012 first round draft pick isn’t worthy of that pedigree. And the serious throat injury he suffered the previous season may own a decent amount of acreage in the back of his brain too. I just don’t see the kid having any future in Boston if you ask me.
However, all things considered, a guy like Zane McIntyre hit a home run this season. He was with the big boy Bruins for 29 games, starting just 3 of those and getting a little mop up duty on along the way. But over an 82 game season that only averages out to 8 or 9 starts which again isn’t ideal for the backup role that needs to develop a little rhythm while truly relieving the starter.
Despite the small dosage of NHL play Zane received while Julien rode Rask like he was Secretariat he showed plenty of signs the tools are there for a bright future. It was a tough line to walk as an organization with a player like Zane when you don’t want to “ruin” the development of a good prospect like him for the sake of trying to plug a leaky backup role that he shouldn’t be in.
Thankfully when Zane returned to the Providence Bruins he wasn’t damaged by his experience. In fact, he absolutely on fire. He finished the season second in the AHL in goals against average and first in save percentage. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him get a true crack at Tuukka’s backup job this coming fall. It also wouldn’t be a bad thing to let him start back to Providence and repeat a dominant performance there one more time.
I’d say goaltending is one of the areas the Bruins have less to worry about than most organizations because they have a legit #1 in place. They’re often hard to come by and if you don’t have one it’s not fun. Just look at the Dallas Stars. The backup position is concerning for the Bruins but it’s an easier headache to remedy than other roster issues. Great backups may not exactly grow on trees but they can be had and don’t break your bank. I’m confident that position will be figured out this summer.
Stay tuned for our next Season Review installment. Defense will be up next as we work from the back out and all the way to the top.
Yes, that means you too Jeremy and Charlie.
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