Though healthy, Bruins would be wise to monitor Tuukka Rask
This may not please the crowd of Tuukka Rask detractors, but any possibility of him losing his No. 1 spot to Anton Khudobin – who has won his last five starts – was put to bed by Bruce Cassidy following Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena.
“Tuukka’s our No. 1,” Cassidy said about the third highest paid goaltender in the National Hockey League. “It’s nice to have a guy who’s your No. 2 that can win you hockey games and then play well. So that’s a great problem to have, to be honest with you.”
One can argue that Khudobin has been playing a little better than Rask of late to be sure. Making the start against the Islanders on Saturday night in place of a struggling Rask due to a lower-body injury, Khudobin made a solid 18 saves in a must-win game for the Bruins in Brooklyn.
In arguably his worst performance of the season against the Lightning, Rask allowed five goals – excluding the empty-netter – on 28 shots and looked rather pedestrian compared to earlier in the week against the Maple Leafs and Senators. That effort was exactly one week removed from being pulled against the Oilers in Edmonton that started their four-game slide prior to the B’s 2-1 win over the Islanders this past weekend.
During that game against the Lightning, Rask noticed discomfort in the lower body. It wasn’t the same lower body issue that caused him to miss a few of starts back in October, but after a weekend of treatment, Rask returned to practice on Monday and appears good to go if his number is called upon for Tuesday’s contest against the Predators.
“It was good to get back on the ice,” Rask said. “We’ll see what the decision is, but I feel good. So get [in] another morning skate tomorrow, and go from there.”
The 6-foot-3 and 176 pound Rask may have felt even better with a lighter workload.
Struggles with goal scoring and backup goaltending forced the Bruins to rely heavily on Rask during the first half of the season. As a result, his 59 starts between the pipes ties him for third most in the league with Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk. That number would have been higher by two or three games had it not been for his earlier lower body injury.
That workload was also brought up by Cassidy on Monday.
“He’s a guy that has played a lot of hockey this year,” the interim Bruins coach said.
“We know that he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle that workload every game and every year. I don’t want to say limitations because I’m not going to put limitations on him, and we probably overused him at the start of the year. It’s been documented again that this time of the year it gets tougher and tougher on any player that’s overplayed. We’ve seen it with other players every year…and that’s why we have two goaltenders as well.”
Barring any last-minute decision or circumstance, Tuesday’s starter against the Predators will be confirmed, as usual, when the first goaltender leaves the ice during the morning skate.
Khudobin’s performance of late is giving Cassidy more confidence to use him. Rask appears to be ready to go on Tuesday. But should the Finn sit one more game and get another needed breather to refocus and regroup?
“Dobby [Khudobin] has stepped up well in this last little stretch and he’s done what was asked of him as well,” Cassidy said. “At the start of the year that was a concern and to his credit he’s fixed that and improved that area of our game.”
“Every game from now on is a must-win, but that’s the way it should be at this time of the year,” Rask said.
Boy, it sure is.
The last thing Rask wants is to miss another scheduled start late in the regular season. But for the time being, it may be the wise thing for the Bruins to sit him at least once – maybe twice – in a week that includes the B’s last back-to-back of the season.