WILMINGTON, Mass. – A goaltending controversy can divide and damage a hockey club.
But a healthy competition at the position can be a source of strength for a team.
Bruins goaltending coach Bob Essensa sees Boston's netminding situation in the latter light, and views the potential of Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas pushing each other for playing time as a positive.
"I think every team has that to some extent," said Essensa, who was on hand at Ristuccia Arena working with the organization's goalies as part of his goalie camp prior to Tuesday's first informal captain's practice. "Certainly what transpired here last season and in the playoffs is going to be motivation for both of them, hopefully, and everyone in our organization. I think both goalies are going to get their games in, especially early on. Claude [Julien] does a real good job of flip-flopping them back and forth in the early part of the season. So both are going to get their feet wet and hopefully both will be playing real well and make it difficult for us to go with just one guy."
Rask unseated then-reigning Vezina winner Thomas last season and led the NHL in both goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931) as a rookie, but Essensa isn't expecting the always-competitive Thomas to push for plenty of playing time.
"Timmy's never really had an issue with the hunger department, to be honest with you," said Essensa. "He's always been a guy who comes to work hard every day in practice and battles and certainly you see that come game time. He doesn't quit on anything so I don't expect anything different out of Tim."
Essensa doesn't expect anything different out of Rask either, though both goalie and coach know more challenges await him as opposing teams have a better idea of his style and tendencies.
"The goalie coaches in the NHL are pretty good, there's no secrets out there in the league," said Essensa. "We go over video ad nauseum, so we know exactly where guys are getting beat.
"For Tuukka, just keeping things in perspective," added Essensa of what Rask needs to do this season. "He still needs to get a little stronger. I'd still like to see him about 190 pounds, all muscle. Over the course of a long season we can constantly improve on certain things that other teams are seeing."
Essensa did note that Rask has bulked up to around 180 pounds this summer, making strides to fill out his 6-foot-2 frame and better withstand the rigors of an 82-game season.
Thomas, who did not stay on the ice for the informal practice, also has to prove he can stay healthy. He is recovering from offseason hip surgery and returned to the ice for the first time on Tuesday.
"[Thomas had] a little bit of an opportunity to get out there and get skating," said Essensa. "It's nice for him to have an opportunity to get out here and try some things out. He's tweaked with some of his equipment to allow for greater range of motion and greater flexibility, so it's a nice chance for him to take a little bit of a step in the right direction as we head into camp here."