For years, fans of the Boston Bruins have been all over the place in terms of their opinions on goaltender Tuukka Rask. For some, he’s simply been a bad goalie who has been overhyped and doesn’t care about the team in the slightest. For others, he’s the best goalie in franchise history and gets too much hate from the fans and media at any given time. The remaining fans fall somewhere in the middle of these two camps and some may not feel too strongly one way or the other.
He’s been among the most polarizing figures in Boston sports for roughly a decade and it’s caused a lot of discourse over the course of his career.
Though a legitimate argument can be made that Rask is the best goalie in the history of the Bruins’ franchise, his return to the team in 2022 has been less than stellar following offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. Even the biggest Rask fans will have a hard time justifying his play in the first four games of the season.
Rask’s Slow Start Causing Concern
It’s been a weird start to the season for Rask in general as his first game against the Philadelphia Flyers saw the veteran netminder make 25 saves on 27 shots (.926 save percentage) to earn the victory. Though he looked a little shaky at times, it was easy to pass that off as rust. Unfortunately, he’d follow that up with a five-goal game against the Carolina Hurricanes in what was likely the Bruins’ worst game of the season.
Allowing five goals on 12 shots (.583 save percentage), Rask and the entire team in front of him suffered an embarrassing loss that brought them back down to earth after a tremendous stretch of play leading into that game since the start of the new year.
The next game would see Rask make 22 saves on 24 shots (.917 save percentage) against the Winnipeg Jets; a game that also saw him allow a weak goal on his very first shot of the game before settling in. The game against the Hurricanes was an anomaly, it seemed, and things were still on track for the Bruins.
Though the numbers were there, it was the way Rask looked on the ice that was cause for concern for many. Typically a very poised goalie, Rask seemed to struggle with some of the minute details of the goaltending position in this game which again, led to the discussions of rust being a problem.
In his next start just two days later against the Anaheim Ducks, Rask once again allowed five goals on 27 shots (.815 save percentage) and the Bruins would lose this game too.
Following the loss against the Ducks, head coach Bruce Cassidy would share his thoughts on Rask’s performance to date.
“He’s not where he needs to be,” said Cassidy. “I think that’s evident, and we weren’t sure he would be this soon either.”
Prior to Rask signing a contract to return to the Bruins, he was signed to a professional tryout (PTO) with the Providence Bruins with the hopes that he could play in at least or two games to get some game-reps under his belt. Unfortunately, games were canceled due to COVID-19 and the Bruins opted to bring Rask right back into the fold in the NHL.
“He’ll need more starts, and then we have to evaluate it, right?” Cassidy said. “Right now, (he’s) not where he needs to be. … He’s got to sort through it, get through the kinks in his games, track pucks a little better, find pucks, puck touches, all the things that you have to get back into your game where he feels good about it.”
Rask himself also hasn’t been satisfied with his play and knows he needs to be better, which makes sense given the high standard he’s held himself to throughout his career.
“You’re a proud player,” said Rask. “You’re trying to set your expectations high, but the reality sometimes doesn’t match it. Obviously, I haven’t been good enough. … Not satisfied, obviously.”
Rask Has Earned Opportunity to Return to Form
Cassidy would come to the defense of Rask the following morning after the Bruins’ loss to the Ducks as well.
“Anybody coming back at any level, it’s going to take a little time,” Cassidy said Tuesday morning. “We understood that. We’re not at the point yet where we’re going to blow everything up. We just need to get him his reps, we need to play well in front of him, he needs to get comfortable tracking pucks, fighting through traffic, stuff you don’t get as often in practice. That’s just going to take some time, hopefully not too much time, I think for everyone involved we’d like to see the results quickly, but it doesn’t always happen that way.”
The results haven’t been pretty, but as Cassidy mentioned, it’s too soon to blow things up and stop this experiment. Rask has earned the benefit of the doubt and the Bruins have given themselves a comfortable cushion in the Wild Card race with an eight-point lead on the Detroit Red Wings (and three games in-hand) as well as a 13-point lead on the Columbus Blue Jackets. They have time to get Rask back into game shape and the 34-year-old has earned the opportunity.
“Listen, Tuukka’s not some guy off the street that’s never played,” Cassidy said. “He’s got a resume in this league and an extremely good one. We know he’ll find his game, we’ve got to give him the opportunity to do it, and that’s the plan. If we have to deviate from that down the road, we will. I know it’s a results-oriented business, but we’re not there yet. We believe we’ll find his game and we’ll have a great 1-2 punch.”
It’s also important to note that though Rask has struggled in his return, he hasn’t caused the Bruins to lose all four games in his four starts. The Bruins have won half of the games he’s played in and that’s not something to panic about as he tries to gain traction and re-learn some of the simple mechanics of playing at such a high level.
Something else that’s notable is the fact that Rask isn’t playing on a $7 million contract anymore. He’s signed to as risk-free a deal as there is in the professional sports world and panic about his play right now is definitely overstated in the grand scheme of things. If things don’t work out, they don’t work out. If they do, though, then the Bruins will have the most enviable goaltending situation in the entire NHL with Rask, Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman all capable of playing very good hockey.
The Bruins won’t let themselves fall out of a playoff spot while letting Rask find his groove. They will, however, exhaust their options and let him prove that he can still be a good goalie in the NHL.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for seven years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.