BOSTON — Tuukka Rask doesn’t panic or grow discouraged during periods when he struggles to play at an elite level.
Similar to a quarterback who has just thrown an interception, Rask can put bad plays behind him and focus on improving. It’s one reason why the Boston Bruins goaltender has been able to elevate his performance this season after a rocky start.
Rask earned his first shutout of the season Tuesday night in a 2-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at TD Garden. It was his sixth win in his last seven starts, and he has given up two goals or fewer in each of those victories. He’s now 10-5-0 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against average on the season.
“I think he deserves a lot of credit because he was outstanding for us (Tuesday night),” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “But I certainly don’t want to diminish the fact that I thought our guys played well tonight against a team that’s been extremely hot, extremely good as you can see. No matter how well you play defensively, they’re still going to get their chances, and when they did, Tuukka made the big saves. But I liked their effort overall tonight.”
Aside from a rare loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs last week, when he gave up four goals in just over one period, Rask has been far more consistent over the last few weeks. The chart below compares Rask’s save percentage in all situations and even strength on a game-by-game basis.
Rask has gone through periods of subpar performances, just like any other goalie. Even in his Vezina Trophy-winning run last season, he had a seven-game stretch from Dec. 28 through Jan. 14 in which his save percentage was sub-.900 (.857).
However, Rask’s struggles early in the season were an anomaly. In fact, out of the 33 goalies with 6,000 or more 5-on-5 minutes over the last five years, Rask ranks first in 5-on-5 save percentage, so his recent improvement is far from a surprise.
The Bruins have been without defensemen Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Torey Krug, as well as two-way forward David Krejci, for good portions of the season, putting more pressure on Rask to play at an elite level because young, inexperienced players — especially on the blue line — have been forced to play larger roles. Still, Rask has won seven of his nine starts since Chara suffered a knee injury Oct. 23, and one of those losses (Oct. 28 versus Minnesota) wasn’t his fault because the Bruins had way too many breakdowns in front of the net.
Julien has an interesting decision ahead of this week’s back-to-back against the Columbus Blue Jackets on the road Friday and the Montreal Canadiens at home Saturday. Rask has struggled versus the Canadiens this season and throughout his career, but resting him Friday could slow the momentum he has built after his two best performances of the campaign.
Giving Rask the start in both games isn’t a bad idea.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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