Boston Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins have their Rask plan, and they need to stick with it

Haggerty: Bruins have their Rask plan, and they need to stick with it

The Bruins and Tuukka Rask hope they’ve refined the formula for his highest efficiency level after another season of mixed results. 

On its face, the 30-year-old would have seemed to have enjoyed a pretty good season with a career-best 37 wins and eight shutouts, the lowest goals against average (2.23 GAA) in three seasons and a strong enough finishing kick that helped push the Bruins into the playoffs. At the same time Rask tied his career-worst with a .915 save percentage and couldn’t play in a pivotal late season road game vs. the Brooklyn Islanders with their very playoff lives hanging in the balance. 

It should be mentioned, of course, that Rask did all this while dealing with a groin injury that needed offseason surgery, and helped play into his inability to maintain consistency in the second half of the season. The nagging injury and first half overuse due to shoddy backup goaltending forced Rask into 65 games last season, and it sounds like there isn’t going to be a repeat of that number moving forward in Boston. 

Rask said he’s healthy post-hip surgery and ready to go full bore when NHL training camp arrives next month, and is on board with a lighter schedule designed to get a more efficient performance out of the slender goaltender. 

“It’s good to get back and I was looking forward to skating this week, but they didn’t have the ice down at [Warrior Arena]. I think they had to pain the lines or something,” said Rask. “I think we are [on the same page]. Every season is different and there are games that vary in physical and mental strain, and you always take that into consideration with how many games you play. 

“I felt good with the [64] games that I [started] last year and didn’t feel like it was too much. If it’s 55 or 65, who knows? I think it’s going to fall between those numbers as long as everything goes the way it’s supposed to go.”

One would actually bet it’s going to be more like 55-60 games for Rask, and that will mean an increased workload for Anton Khudobin as his backup goaltender. It’s not a coincidence that Rask’s best season as a clear-cut No. 1 goaltender was also the 2013-14 season where he played just 58 games, and posted a 2.04 goals against average and .930 save percentage while winning 36 games. The other two top seasons of his NHL career were his rookie season where he appeared in 45 games while supplanting Tim Thomas as he battled his own hip problems, and the lockout season when Rask started just 34 games in an abbreviated season. 

It’s become clear to everybody involved with the Bruins that Rask is a No. 1 goaltender that needs sufficient rest, and is never going to be the Henrik Lundqvist/Cory Schneider workhorse type that’s going to lead the NHL in games started. That will maximize Rask’s effectiveness and hopefully avoid the situation that saw his save percentage dip below .900 in January and February as he hit a mental/physical wall of fatigue.

As Bruins President Cam Neely succinctly said back in April, “we’ve realized over the last couple of years that we just can’t overplay Tuukka.”  

“In the middle of the season, I thought we rode him maybe a little too hard. [Rask] broke down a little bit. Then he finished on such a high note, the player that we all know Tuukka is, and the competitor he is,” said Don Sweeney, back at the end of the year press conference. “He had some injury troubles that he was battling through the course of the season and really came back, after getting a little bit of rest, a better player. 

“He’s a big part of it if we’re going to have success that we expect to have, that he has to be the go-to guy and I think he proved that down the stretch and in the playoffs that he can be that goaltender.”

The other factor in all of this is the consistency of Khudobin, and making certain the B’s backup is ready to potentially play in 25 plus games for the Black and Gold this season. He’ll need to be better than he was last year when his struggles forced the Bruins to overplay Rask, and pushed Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban into emergency backup duty before they were ready for it. 

“[Khudobin] is very capable of playing great hockey. It’s just a matter of feeling confident, feeling like you’ve got the coach’s trust and then getting into a rhythm,” said Rask. “If you play every fifth or sixth game it’s tough, and you’re always kind of rebooting. So that’s not easy. Hopefully he can get into a rhythm right off the bat and we’ll get going as a good tandem.”

It sounds good in theory now to make certain Rask only plays 55-60 games this upcoming season, and it will certainly pay off in the goalie’s performance if they can stick with that strategy. But the discipline will come for the Black and Gold if the pressure comes again this season to overplay Rask at times, and risk running down a No. 1 goalie that only consistently plays like it when given a specific amount of rest during the regular season. 

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Morning Skate: Kurz takes Sharks' coverage to The Athletic

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Morning Skate: Kurz takes Sharks' coverage to The Athletic

Here are the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while appreciating Jimmy Kimmel more with each passing day.

*Congrats to FOH (Friend of Haggs) Kevin Kurz on his move to The Athletic. Here he details why he’ll now be covering the Sharks for them.

*Joffrey Lupul has apologized for intimating that the Toronto Maple Leafs are “cheating” when it comes to player injuries.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has Loui Eriksson looking to bounce back with the Vancouver Canucks after a tough first year there. He’ll probably be better than he was last season, but one thing I learned about Eriksson during his time in Boston is that you’re not going to see his best unless there’s a reason for him to be at his best. Sitting in Vancouver in the middle of a comfortable, big money contract on a mediocre-to-bad hockey team isn’t exactly going to ratchet up the urgency.

*Tampa Bay defenseman prospect Mikhail Sergachev has “NHL written all over him” after a strong start to training camp with the Lightning. That’s music to management’s ears down there after they gave up Jonathan Drouin for him in the offseason.

*Nick Cotsonika chronicles the “big first step” that the NHL has made into China with an exhibition game there between the Kings and Canucks.

*This blog post pokes fun at Don LaGreca for a rant about geometry, but I agree with his overall point that the vast majority of people choose to like sports exactly because it doesn’t include these complex mathematical formulas that the fancy stats brigade is trying to introduce into the sports world with more and more force.

 

Bruins' Krug suffers fractured jaw, out at least three weeks

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Bruins' Krug suffers fractured jaw, out at least three weeks

BRIGHTON -- Now that the preseason games have started, it was inevitable that the injuries were going to start popping up for the Bruins.

Torey Krug will be out at least three weeks after suffering a non-displaced fracture in his jaw after taking a puck to the mouth in the second period of Tuesday night’s win over the Red Wings. And both Matt Beleskey (foot contusion) and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (upper body) are considered day-to-day with injuries.

Forsbacka Karlsson tumbled head-first into the end boards in the second period Tuesday. Beleskey suffered his injury in Monday night’s win over the Canadiens in Quebec City.

The Krug injury is significant, of course, and likely to cause him to miss at least the first few games of the regular season. It’s a tough break for the puck-moving defenseman, who missed all of last year’s playoffs because of a knee injury after staying healthy for the first 81 games.

It will give the Bruins a chance to give much closer looks to younger, left-shot defensemen like Matt Grzelcyk, Robbie O’Gara, Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril. All three were ticketed to start the year in Providence.

Here is the expected lineup for tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden, with Anders Bjork getting his first official look while skating right wing on a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron:
 
Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork
Gabrielle-Nash-Acciari
Blidh-Cave-Senyshyn
Agostino-Spooner-Heinen
 
Chara-Carlo
Grzelcyk-Cross
Lauzon-Postma