BOSTON -- If there was a perfect training camp warm-up for the Bruins goaltenders to a challenging 48-game regular season, then Tuesday nights Black and Gold scrimmage at TD Garden was the exact opposite of that.
The final score was a 7-5 victory for the Providence Bruins in front of an impressively large crowd for a mere preseason scrimmage, and the final goal was a Kyle MacKinnon empty netter that didnt reflect poorly on the Bs puck-stoppers. But prior to that final score Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin allowed a combined 11 goals on 57 shots in a sloppy affair that looked more like a third grade fire drill than a professional hockey game.
Thats not exactly an encouraging dress rehearsal performance considering that Rask and Khudobin will be Bostons final line of defense this season. Instead of poised, confident and quiet, Rask was flopping all over the ice leaving large portions of the cage wide open. His Russian backup was simply whiffing while trying to glove pucks and stop simple shots from the face-off circle.
Considering that both goaltenders played in Europe, this was not supposed to be the way they looked.
Im going to look at the goals again. I think Tuukka Rask was maybe a little more active than he normally is when hes poised, said Claude Julien, who indicated the defense in front of the goalies was just as culpable in the high-scoring affair. But the winning goal just two guys skated in front of him and it hit the side of the leg. It was going wide and then trickled in. So there were a lot of things tonight. Certainly I dont think he got the bounces, but theres certainly a lot of things that he can work with Bob Essensa in the next couple of days to kind of tune him up a little bit better.
The same thing with Khudobin I thought a lot of pucks went through him tonight. He was there, but they were going through. So those are things that are usually...its a lot easier to correct than when youre out of position. I think both guys were in position but slight corrections will certainly make them better.
For his part Rask plainly admitted following the game that he lost mental focus in the third period, and that factored into the four goals he surrendered in the final 20 minutes against an AHL opponent. He seemed to lose a little composure at the beginning of the third period when the defense allowed Max Sauve to waltz right in toward the net and throw a couple of good stick fakes on Rask before dumping the puck in the open net.
Two more goals followed in less than five minutes, and the crowd showered Rask with a mock cheer when he finally did glove a long clearing shot. That unrest from the home crowd didnt go unnoticed by Rask in the otherwise meaningless preseason tilt.
It was good to see that crowd and they cheered us. They cheered for Providence guys too, so it was good to see that, said Rask. They cheered me on that one save in the third period too, didnt they?
At least Rask can keep his sense of humor about himself even if the bottom dropped out in a slipshod scrimmage effort.
The 25-year-old Finnish goalie was clearly the victim of a disorganized defense and some bad bounces on re-directions.
But he also simply wasnt very good.
Any NHL goaltender that gives up six goals on 24 shots and finishes with a .750 save percentage for the evening needs to look in the mirror before placing blame on the defenders in front of him. From tracking the puck through traffic to showing proper urgency in freezing the puck for a bacon-saving whistle, Rask was a little slow on the draw on all fronts. Knowing that the New York Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist await on Saturday night, Rask was the first to admit hes got plenty of work to do.
I think it was sloppy throughout, for all of us. But you'd rather take it now than Saturday against the Rangers, right? said Rask. Ive got to improve on everything.
Just try to keep the focus for 60 minutes. I was slipping there the last period for sure, giving up four or five goals. But for all of us I think it was just a good wake up call for Saturday. I dont want to be too down on ourselves, but weve still got to wake up and raise our battle meter for sure.
But its actually not about the opposition for Rask this season. Its about his potential and how good he can be with a loaded Bruins team around him. He led the NHL in goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931) three years ago before wilting in the postseason, and hes shown flashes of brilliance as Tim Thomas understudy.
But the Bruins signed Rask to a one-year deal with the hopes that the goaltender can prove hes a franchise goalie over the course of a full regular season and Stanley Cup playoff run. Once Rask has taken on a starters full workload and maintained consistency and good health, the Bruins will show him the money and give long term security.
He knows it and the Bruins brain trust certainly knows it as well. But both player and team also know that his play between the pipes will be one of the largest keys of the season for a team thats missing their bunker-bound Conn Smythe-winning goaltender. If Rask is as good as he was in his rookie season the Bruins are a Stanley Cup favorite again this season. If Rask is inconsistent and feeling around for the groove, the Bruins will be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team with a huge weakness once the postseason begins.
I dont necessarily have to prove that Im a No. 1 goaltender, but I want to prove it, said Rask. You always want to prove it no matter what the situation is. If you have a one-year deal or an eight-year deal you still dont want to suck, right? So its just a matter of going out there and proving it.
I dont like to place pressure on myself about things. If I play at my level then Im sure everything will turn out fine.
Well, Rask pretty much sucked on Tuesday night in his first game out of the chute.
But the goaltender also knows none of that will matter as long as he pulls it together between the pipes once the real NHL games commence this weekend. He knows that goaltending is the one Bruins department that, for better or worse, separates the team from middle-of the-pack playoff squad to elite Cup contender.
Nobody said that life without Tim Thomas would be easy, but Rask needs to start proving hes up for that challenge.