Rask brilliant in December

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Rask brilliant in December

The Bruins have often said they have two No. 1 goaltenders in their deck.

It looks like for the first time since they became a tandem three years ago, both Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask are playing that way. Rask continued a torrid December run with a 3-0 shutout victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. That performance gives him an otherworldly .971 save percentage during four starts this month.

Rask was the beneficiary of a Kings team that seemed alternately confused andor asleep after going through a coaching change 24 hours prior. Regardless, the 24-year-old netminder was still stellar between the pipes. With a 41-save effort that included a 20-stop third period, the backup goaltender improved to 6-4-1 on the season with his first shutout of the year. He has now passed Thomas in save percentage (.939 to .938) and goals against average (1.82 to 1.92).

Rask's play has no doubt been a confidence booster this month. But he also got positive reviews after he replaced Thomas last weekend against the Blue Jackets in a tie game and came away with the victory. That show of faith was a brilliant coaching move for Claude Julien, and something that may help Rask as he competes with the best goalie in the world for playing time.

He was good tonight. He was arguably our best player tonight. He stood tall and they threw a lot of shots at him, certainly not easy shots to stop, said Julien. There was a lot of traffic in front of the net screens. He had the quick feet going, made the saves on close-range and was probably our best player.

So he got better as the game went on and I thought he did a good job the other night coming in and kind of settling himself in the third period against Columbus and then he just carried that into tonight.

The toughest saves of the night came late in the game with the Bs holding down a three-goal lead and Los Angeles finally showing some desperation and thats when Rask shook off a play with Kings scrapper Dustin Brown walking in alone. Brown maneuvered through the Boston defense before getting turned away by the young puck-stopper, and his shutout was complete.

You just try to win every game. The team knows what Im capable of and theyve seen me enough so I dont really need to prove that day in and day out, said Rask, who is a ridiculous 3-1 with a 0.91 goals against average and a .971 save percentage during four games in the month of December. Theres no more to prove to them than I have to prove to myself. I dont take any extra pressure on that.

I just tried to save every puck. You dont want to think about shutouts because you might chase yourself but couple tough chances in the end but that was it.

The plan all along was to start Rask at home against the Kings on Tuesday, and come back with Thomas in Ottawa, where hes piled up the most road wins and shutouts of any road arena in his Bruins career.

Claude Julien wouldnt discuss his goaltending plan after Tuesday nights shutout victory, but its all but assured hes still going to come back with Thomas against the Sens as outlined Tuesday morning.

What will be interesting is which goaltender gets the call against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon in an important Eastern Conference match for the Bruins. Juliens decision could rest largely on what Thomas does against the Senators on Wednesday night, but more playing time should be trending toward Rasks direction given the way that hes played.

With Rask standing on his head this month, and the Bruins still without Zdeno Chara for what could be the next couple of games, its certainly worth discussing a little more playing time for Rask. The high number of shots for the Kings indicates a Bs team thats perhaps playing a little more in the bend but dont break mold, and there needs to be some tightening up in front of the goalie.

We have to tighten up a bit. I think we went through spurts in the game where we were playing well and spurts where we werent, Brad Marchand said. You know, Tuukka did a great job of keeping us in it when shots were coming at him but we definitely played sloppy at times.

So its a good thing Rask is playing so well that he can cover for a sloppy group of Bs finding their way in a Chara-less world.

Once the Bruins get past their spread-out schedule (seven games in a little less than three weeks) leading into the New Year, there will be a steady diet of Rask in the second half of the regular season. That much is certain as it has been Bostons strategy all along to give Thomas some second-half rest.

Where once that might have seemed like a risky proposition, one could now make the argument its the best chance for Boston to win given the level at which Rask is playing in net.

Mueller aims to take advantage of opportunity in tonight's Bruins-Wings game

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Mueller aims to take advantage of opportunity in tonight's Bruins-Wings game

BRIGHTON -- Tonight’s Bruins-Red Wings game against the Red Wings should be a big chance for training-camp invite Peter Mueller as he readies to skate in a second straight exhibition game after a quiet night in the opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

The former 22-goal scorer with the Coyotes felt he was “solid” and “held his own” while not getting any shots on neta againsy Columbus. The veteran winger feels like he’s again starting to pick up the NHL pace after spending the last three years in Europe, and that’s mandatory to start making plays. 

“It was a good adjustment, but hopefully tonight I show a little more skill, a few more pucks to the net and create some more offense,” said Mueller. “I would rather play in most of the [exhibition] games, to be honest with you, and to get in-game-like scenarios and prepare yourself for each and every game. In my position I’m happy that I’m playing tonight and hopefully I can keep trying to impress the people [making decisions].”

The 26-year-old former first-round pick will be in a favorable spot, skating in a possible third-line, right-wing audition with Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey. He'll also serve as another established player in a more veteran-laden lineup Wednesday night vs. the Winged Wheels at TD Garden. With Frankie Vatrano out for the next three months, these are the kind of chances Mueller needs to knock out of the park if he wants to fend off younger competition for one of those B’s roster spots up front. 

“It definitely favors the type of game I want to play,” said Mueller, when asked about the chance to skate in a spot with Spooner and Beleskey that he would likely fill whre he to crack the NHL roster. “With two skill guys, hopefully we can create some chemistry and some offense early and obviously that helps with the flow of the game. Hopefully I can just showcase my skills and the work ethic that I’m trying to bring to the team. Overall, hopefully we have a good game tonight.”

Sean Kuraly is also playing in his second straight exhibition, and will move over to the left wing skating with Austin Czarnik and left wing Zachary Senyshyn in what amounts to a kid line for the Bruins. One would expect the same goaltending rotation in this game, with Malcolm Subban getting the first two periods and Daniel Vladar getting the game’s final 20 minutes. Here are the line combos and D-pairings according to the rushes during morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena:
 
Beleskey-Spooner-Mueller
Kuraly-Czarnik-Senyshyn
Gabrielle-Moore-Ferlin
Blidh-Acciari-Hickman
 
Grzelcyk-McQuaid
Lauzon-C. Miller
Arnesson-Casto
 
Subban
Vladar
 

Bruins' Zboril uses criticism and Twitter hate as motivation

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Bruins' Zboril uses criticism and Twitter hate as motivation

BRIGHTON -- It’s easy to see that Jakub Zboril , one of the Bruins' 2015 first-round pick, has come a long way in a year.

“I feel more comfortable,” said Zboril. “After last year, when all of the people saying something about what they didn’t like about me, it really pushed me forward. I told myself I wanted to be in better shape and so I worked really hard at it.”

The 19-year-old wasn’t in very good shape for last season's training camp after coming back from a knee injury, and that carried over into a junior season for the Saint John Sea Dogs (6 goals and 20 points in 50 games). That was a drop from his 13 goals and 33 points in 44 games prior to hearing his name called by the B’s on draft night.

Zboril was back at peak effectiveness in the playoffs for the Sea Dogs with a couple of goals and 10 points in 17 games, but the chain of events caused some to wonder if the Bruins had drafted something of a bust.

It seems ludicrous, considering Zboril is a 19-year-old talented enough to be selected 13th overall in the entire NHL draft, and even more so now that he’s showing much more in his second camp with Boston. It was some good and some bad for Zboril in his preseason debut against Columbus on Monday with a misplay leading to a goal against, but Zboril also kicked off the transition pass that helped the Bruins score their first goal of game.

“From last year I think he’s made big strides,” said assistant coach Jay Pandolfo. “He’s a young kid that’s only 19 years old, and he’s going to keep getting better. So that’s what you want. The structure in his game and the overall attitude [is better]. He was a little young last year. He’s in better shape. He’s done a lot of things that we got on him for last year, and he’s taken it and listened, he’s working hard. He’s done a good job.”

It’s a long shot for Zboril to crack the B’s roster this fall, so he’s likely headed back to Saint John for another junior hockey season after watching fellow prospect Thomas Chabot get a lot of the No. 1 D-man playing time last season. He quickly shot down any possibilities of playing in Europe rather than going back to the Quebec Major Junior League, and said there could still be plenty to learn in his final junior season.

“Right now where I am, I can just learn from myself and pushing myself,” said Zboril, of going back to junior. “What I can take from last year is that my role on the team changed, and I had to be more of a shutdown D. I had to show my defensive abilities, so I improved a lot from the year before. I think I can be more of a defensive defenseman too, so there’s that.”

Still, the so-so season last year had its impact in a positive fashion with Zboril really stepping up his game. But it’s also had its drawbacks as the Czech-born defenseman was forced to deactivate his Twitter account because of the harsh criticism and messages he was getting from hockey fans. Disappointingly, Zboril said most of it was coming from people in Boston that claim to be Bruins fans, and that it was like “people just spitting on you.”

“It was really pushing me down a lot,” said Zboril. “After some games when you know you weren’t playing really good, then you go on Twitter and you just see . . . people just spitting on you. So I had to delete it.”

Zboril said he’s much happier since getting off social media. But it’s a shame that a bright young prospect’s first impression of his future NHL city was the flaming dumpster of keyboard warriors that should forever be known as “Bruins Hockey Twitter.”