Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images
Bruins fans are now one week into the NHL season and saw the Bruins go 1-1-1 in their first three games versus the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders. In this shortened 56 game regular season, teams cannot afford to get off to a slow start and the Bruins certainly do not look to be hitting the ground running. With the absence of exhibition games this season, teams have been forced to try and replicate the intensity and physical nature of competition in practice, however, nothing compares to genuine game play.
The players who suffered the most with the omission of preseason were the goaltenders. Take for example, Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jarry was coming off an All-Star campaign last season posting a .921 SV% and 2.43 GAA in 31 starts. Jarry eventually stole the starting position from Matt Murray and Pittsburgh traded the former number one netminder in the off-season to Ottawa, while Tristan inked a 3 year deal with Pittsburgh worth $10.5 million and looked to be in control of the starting job.
Fast forward to 2021 and Jarry is second to last in the league in GAA after two starts with an abysmal 7.57 GAA and .727 SV%. Casey DeSmith has now started 2 games in a row for the Penguins as coach Mike Sullivan said this time off will give Jarry "an opportunity to reset his mind" despite looking well seasoned throughout training camp.
If time off helps to reset the mind of a goalie, Tuukka Rask should be the most mentally rested goalie in the NHL this season. Tuukka, who came under fire last year for leaving the Bruins and the NHL bubble during the playoffs to attend to a family emergency, has had plenty of time to be ready for the compact season and the challenges that he will face both mentally and physically. Bruin's head coach Bruce Cassidy has stated that he will utilize his top tier back up, Jaroslav Halak, to keep Tuukka fresh this season. Rask has repeatedly proven that he can not handle a large workload. The Finnish netminder typically fizzles out around 60 starts and unfortunately for Bruins fans, the 60 game mark happens to be in the playoffs. Not what you'd expect from an upper echelon goalie who continuously ranks among the top 10 in the league, and commands a cap hit of 7mil per season.
Tuukka is 2-3 in game 7s and posted below average stats with only a 3.8 GAA and a .845 SV% which includes 4 goals against in the famed Toronto comeback game during the 2013 Conference Quarterfinals, and the Stanley Cup finals against the St Louis Blues. These stats are a far cry from his regular season numbers and come after the Tuukka Fizzle Factor.
So far in 2021, Tuukka has a .923 SV% and 1.46 GAA which proves to most fans why he has earned the moniker as a bona-fide #1 and top tier NHL goalie. The stats, out of context, are great but if you look closer at the box score, an old problem persists. Rask has surrendered the game tying or game winning goal during both of his starts late in the third period. Not to say that the goals against are entirely Tuukka's fault, but at some point you need your goalie to elevate his game and make a big save late that wins you a game. With his habits of less than stellar play in game 7's and surrendering late 3rd period goals, Rask lacks those last few attributes to command confidence from his teammates and to silence his critics.
Rask and Halak remain as one of the best goalie tandems in the NHL, and with the loss of blueliners Torey Krug (signed with the St Louis Blues) and Zedeno Chara (signed with the Washington Capitals), the goaltending position is one of the most vital components for a successful cup run. With the shortened NHL season, the Bruins having a competent backup goaltender in Halak, and Rask being well rested after leaving last years playoffs early, this is the year for Tuukka to prove that he can shake off his late season demons and be a pivotal difference maker for the Bruins. The Bruins will next play a pair of games against the Philadelphia Flyers with with Jaroslav Halak expected to start Thursday January 21 at 7:00pm and Tuukka Rask is expected to be between the pipes on Saturday, January 23. The Flyers are 3-0-1, currently sit atop the East Division and are tied with Washington for the league lead in scoring with 15.