Despite slump, Julien says Rask 'doesn't feel tired'

Despite slump, Julien says Rask 'doesn't feel tired'
January 16, 2014, 10:30 am
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WILMINGTON – It’s pretty natural to ask the questions about the workload for Tuukka Rask in first full NHL season as Boston’s No. 1 goaltender.

The 26-year-old is on pace to play roughly 65 games, the kind of regular season burden that goes right along with the $7 million per season payday that Rask earned over the summer. But the last month hasn’t been good as Rask has been pulled three times in the last 12 games, and his backup has made exactly one start since Dec. 13 – a 4-2 loss to the Sabres where Chad Johnson didn’t look sharp at all.

There is no denying the simple stats that don’t look all that good: Rask is approaching his career-high in starts (39) for an NHL season after headlining his 37th game of the year Tuesday night vs. the Maple Leafs. The B’s goaltender said a couple of days ago that he isn’t “too tired”, but is well aware of the challenge facing him in a compacted schedule this season thanks to the Olympics.

“You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You’ve just got to work, and keep battling through it,” said Rask. “I think everybody is feeling a little bit of the schedule being pretty heavy, but I’m not too tired. It’s draining mentally when you travel a lot, and you play every other day.

“It’s not going to get any easier. I’ve thought about it, but then again . . . what can you do? It’s your job to adjust and be as good as you can be. I’ve looked at the schedule, and March is going to be crazy. Again. Just like last year. You just keep plugging away, and try to win games.”

The Bruins goaltender has watched his numbers drop every month of the season: the first three months were in the same ballpark (Oct.: 1.73 GAA, .940%, Nov.: 2.06 GAA, .929%, Dec.: 2.22 GAA, .927%) even if they were relatively slight drops in descending order.

But the bottom is dropping out since the calendar switched over to 2014 with a Bruins team in front of him that’s been slumping both offensively and defensively. Rask is sporting a 3.00 goals against average and a rough-looking .898 save percentage to go along with a lackluster 2-3-0 record in five starts.

For his part, Claude Julien said he doesn’t believe workload or fatigue is an issue with his goalie despite evidence to the contrary. Some of the soft goals he's surrendered lately -- with the power play strike for Jake Gardiner Tuesday night and the Justin Williams goal in LA as examples of shots he got a good look at, but couldn't stop --certainly speak to something being wrong with the B's goalie's game.

It was a good sign to see Rask on the ice prior to Wednesday’s practice in Ristuccia getting in some work with Bruins goalie coach Bob Essensa, or “Goalie Bob” as he’s pretty much known to everybody.

“I usually have a pretty good feel [for fatigue]. I talk to those guys,” said Julien. “As much as you want to say they’re not telling the truth, goaltenders have always been pretty honest about telling me ‘Hey, I’m feeling a little bit tired.’ He’s not. I’m very conscientious of the workloads as you’ve seen in the past. He feels great. I think he doesn’t feel tired, but he doesn’t feel like his game is where it should be. We all agree on that, but there’s a lot more to our losses than one guy.

“It’s your guys’ job [in the media] to dissect everything. It’s about making the corrections and letting the goaltending coach work with the goaltender to get his game back on. Is it [his anticipation]? Is it his confidence that’s a little bit lacking? Is it not having the swagger he normally has? That’s a position I don’t spend a lot of time on because it’s so specialized. I yank him when I feel like I need to yank him, and put the other goalie in. It’s as simple as that. It’s a lot easier to look at a goaltender and say that he’s struggling because he sticks out a lot more than the other players. That’s why we are very protective of our goaltenders.”

The good thing for Rask: he still has three months plus the playoffs to prove that he can handle the prodigious workload of an NHL franchise goaltender, and that the last month is the blip on this season’s radar screen for him.