BOSTON – A big part of Chad Johnson’s recent spate of playing time is certainly due to the way he’s playing between the pipes for the Bruins. Getting the starting nod in four of Boston’s last eight games – including their 4-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday – is the heaviest usage of the season for the backup goaltender, and Johnson has responded with a 4-0-0 record and a .939 save percentage since Jan. 1.
But Claude Julien admitted after Saturday’s win that it is also about giving Tuukka Rask an extended period of rest after observing decline in his game after getting pushed hard in the first few months of the season. One might have thought the B’s bench boss would go right back to Rask after pulling him from Thursday’s game in the second period vs. Montreal, but Julien instead pressed on with his planned goalie rotation.
“He’s played a lot in the first half and we sense it. But at the same time, like anybody else, you want him to do well in the Olympics. I’m not going to sacrifice not playing him here for the Olympics, but we have an opportunity not to over-utilize him,” said Claude Julien. “So I’m using that, and when he comes back I’m hoping to get an opportunity to use Chad [Johnson] so he can get a little bit of rest, because that will be a stressful and probably a really busy time in those next two weeks in Sochi.
“That goes for the rest of the guys too. I’m not just talking about Tuukka [Rask] but for the other players as well.”
The rest should certainly continue to benefit Rask as he’s already passed over into a career-high in starts in one NHL season (41) as he shoulders a big workload as a No. 1 goaltender. The fatigue is as easy as simply perusing his stats for each successive month of the season.
Rask’s numbers have dropped steadily with each passing month from a torrid October (1.73 GAA and .940 save percentage) to solid November (2.06 and .929) and December (2.22 and .927), but the decline has really been hard to miss in January (2.64 and .912) combined with a drop in the quality of B’s defense played in front of him. He’s also been pulled three times in his last 11 games after being removed once in his first 30 starts of the year.
Clearly it’s not just this season in Julien’s mind, as last year’s workload with a deep playoff run combined with this season’s compacted schedule is a big factor in Rask’s recent dip.
“[Rask] is going to be fine. But some of the things that are happening, I find, in the first half of this season are probably the result of what has happened since the lockout,” said Julien. “You know, we had a compressed schedule all of last year and then you start off this year with another compressed schedule because of the Olympics. So it’s two compressed schedules back-to-back. It does have an effect on the players at some point.
“[We] weren’t done until the end of June, so it was a short summer. Now you’re dealing with two compressed schedules. That’s one of the reasons I’m pretty pleased with the way our team has dealt with that so far. You see it around the league – every once in a while there’s a blowout here or there and it’s going to happen.”
Clearly it’s also reflected in the performance individual players like Rask, who are fighting mental and physical fatigue coupled with a schedule that has few reprieves for the elite Olympic athletes.