Can Boston Bruins Goaltender Tuukka Rask Keep Up His Hot Start?
Tim Thomas who?
Through the first four games of the lockout-shortened NHL season, the Boston Bruins scored seven of eight possible points, once again on the strength of top-tier goaltending. However, unlike the past two seasons, Thomas hasn't been the Bruins' number one goaltender—it's Tuukka Rask between the pipes on most nights.
Yes, Boston fans know Rask well. He's currently in his fourth season with the team, having played in over 100 regular season games in his career and 13 playoff contests in the season before the Bruins Stanley Cup win.
But this is Rask's first season as the undisputed number one goaltender from start to finish. He wrestled the role away from an ailing Thomas in 2009-10, only to fall back to backup status early in 2010-11 and remain there last year. The Bruins encouraged him to patiently wait to regain the role, and after Thomas' public media disintegration and sabbatical this year, Rask aims to keep it for good.
His goals-against average of 1.96 ranked sixth among goalies with four or more starts heading into Monday night's games, while his .925 save percentage ranked 10th in the same group. His play has helped Boston become the first team to earn five points in the Eastern Conference, and the Bruins came into Tuesday's games tied for fifth in the league with seven points.
Those who question whether or not Rask can maintain his hot start would be wise to consider how confidently he plays in a number one role.
As the Bruins' top goaltender in 2009-10, he had a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage in 45 regular season games, only to see those numbers drop to 2.67 and .918 as the backup in 2010-11.
He's also played at a high level outside of the NHL this year. In eight games spent with Plzen HC of the Czech Republic during the lockout, Rask went 6-2-0 with a 1.85 GAA and .936 save percentage.
Rather than take on the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils in the Bruins' back-to-back matches on Monday and Tuesday, Rask will play tonight against New Jersey after backup Anton Khudobin got his first start in a 5-3 victory last night.
Khudobin inauspiciously started Monday's game by taking a delay of game penalty, only to be bailed out by a Brad Marchand shorthanded goal. He would eventually earn the decision marked more by lapses on the Bruins' end of the ice than Khudobin playing poorly.
If fans are worried about Rask maintaining his high level of play, the biggest concern might be keeping the depth players consistent in front of him. On his own, he'll be just fine, providing all of the spectacular saves Bruins fans know and love with none of the Facebook posts.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.
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