Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask picked a bad time to go through a slump. Not that there’s ever a good time to go through a slump, but this really isn’t a good time to be struggling.
The Boston netminder had another forgettable showing on Thursday night in Los Angeles. He was victimized for a goal in the first period and a pair of tallies in the opening minutes of the second period before being mercifully pulled by B’s coach Claude Julien. The early exit marked the third time that Julien has had to yank Rask in just the last month alone.
Rask’s early-season dominance seems like a long time ago. Since posting a shutout against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 27, Rask has had a rough go of it. The Finnish backstop has allowed 17 goals in his last five games, a stretch in which the Bruins have gone 1-4. Rask’s save percentage is a grotesque .856 over that time. That doesn’t include a stint between mid-November and mid-December when he allowed at least three goals in four different games.
There are a handful of speculated reasons as to why Rask is struggling so much right now. One of the most popular theories is that Rask and the Bruins are really feeling the effects of missing Dennis Seidenberg. It’s not entirely a coincidence that the shutout against the Senators a couple of weeks ago was the night that Seidenberg suffered his knee injury late in the 5-0 win. Rask is the one who is exposed the most when the defense in front of him isn’t at its best. The defensive problems at this point, though, appear to be more systematic. Seidenberg is really good, but he alone isn’t worth one goal per game, which has been the average difference in the games with and without the veteran D-man. The defensive issues stem farther than just the absence of Seidenberg, and Rask is the one who gets left out to dry more often than not.
Another theory is that Rask’s workload is starting to become an issue. Rask has made eight of the team’s last nine starts, but that has included a three-day break in between. Could Rask use a few more days off here and there? Probably, especially considering he’ll be in contention for the starter’s job for Finland in the Olympics. However, this workload isn’t a huge uptick for Rask, at least not compared to last season. Rask started 36 games last year over the course of about three months and a week. This season, he’s started 35 games in just about the same amount of time. Rask’s regular-season save percentage through 36 games last year was .929. Through the 35 games this season, his save percentage is .928.
Rask did start to hit a wall at the 30-, 35-game mark last season as well. He and the Bruins limped into the playoffs. Of course, that’s when Rask took his game to another level. He posted a .940 save percentage and a 1.88 goals against average during the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, and he might have had a really good shot at being named the Conn Smythe winner had Boston won that series. So it’s a little bit misleading to say that this is uncharted territory for the goaltender given the fact that he was incredibly good last season after a dip around the same point in the season as he’s at right now.
Regardless of what’s going on around him, the Bruins do need Rask to be better, though. He looked especially leaky on the Kings’ first and second goals before being pulled. He’s expected to be an elite goaltender, and he certainly gets paid like one as well. However, even the best goalies go through slumps. The problem with Rask, however, is that his slump is coming at a time in which the Bruins need him to be his best.
So with everyone else struggling around him, Rask’s issues are going to look the worst. That’s the case right now, and the Bruins just have to hope Rask gets back on top of his game before too long.