Chad Johnson is emboldening the notion that he can help Tuukka Rask relax if and when necessary.
Tuesday night’s tilt with the Vancouver Canucks was his 42nd appearance in the Bruins crease out of 55 potential games played. He will most likely increase that total to 43 out of 56 when his team ventures to St. Louis on Thursday.
Afterwards, the balance of the 2013-14 itinerary boils down to the following: Saturday’s home matinee versus Ottawa, an Olympic break that will hardly constitute a break for Rask and then a sprinting marathon to the playoffs.
On top of representing Finland in the Olympics, Rask will naturally see at least his fair share of action, if not more than that, as the stakes start jutting out in visibility. He will be the go-to goalie not just in the playoffs, but in any and all virtual playoff bouts beforehand.
Sooner or later, in light of that notion, it would be wise on Boston’s part to give Rask a healthy scratch. Every little bit of preservation will help in the effort to ensure a dependable machine for the playoffs.
The final day of action before the NHL puts its season in the cooler makes sense as one of those moments.
In fact, the Bruins might even want to consider sandwiching Rask’s Sochi adventure with a pair of guaranteed off nights. That is, dressing Chad Johnson and a minor league call-up so as to give Rask a full day to rest and recharge.
That would mean calling up the organization’s current third-stringer, Niklas Svedberg, for Friday’s practice and Saturday’s contest. Ditto the Feb. 26 road trip to Buffalo that will reopen the schedule just three days after the final Olympic contests in Russia.
How far Boston head coach Claude Julien actually goes to spell Rask on those occasions is not yet clear, but he does appear to be mapping out an arrangement of that nature. Here is how the skipper was quoted by Worcester Telegram and Gazette reporter Bud Barth this past weekend:
My goal is to give him some rest before going to the Olympics. He’s got a big job to do there (for Finland) and I don’t want to be the guy responsible for burning him out. … When he comes back, you hope to be able to do the same thing — give him an opportunity to get some rest by utilizing both goaltenders again.
Again, Julien did not offer a definite indication as to whether that means making Rask the backup for a few games or letting him stay in street clothes. If he makes the right move, though, it will be the latter scenario for the two games going into and coming out of the Olympic interval.
It is not as though there is much cause for reservation in following such a plan. As the Bruins goalie guild is currently constituted, this is a far cry from the late winter of 2012, when Tim Thomas was overworked in the wake of injuries to both Rask and Anton Khudobin.
Instead, incumbent backup Johnson and Svedberg have fresh entries on their respective NHL game logs that speak to an ability to survive a few days without Rask.
Johnson has gone unbeaten since the current calendar year began, taking a no-decision in two relief appearances and winning four consecutive starts. He has done little short of emboldening his team’s right to confidence in him during the latest stretch.
The second installment of his active four-game win streak was a 3-2 triumph over Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings. More recently, he charged up his first shutout as a Bruin by repelling all 22 shots he faced in a 4-0 win over Edmonton.
Say what you will about that one coming against a weak adversary. The fact is that the Bruins did not start to confidently run away with that game until a three-goal third period. Before that, Johnson was ready to respond as necessary to preserve a scoreless tie and brittle one-goal lead against a vast collection of reckonable young guns.
This coming Saturday’s clash with Ottawa would not merely be an opportune moment for Boston’s brass to capitalize on Johnson’s hot hand. It should pose a chance to expand upon the club’s conviction in its backup and for Johnson to go into his bona fide break on a helpful high note.
The way to do that is to take the established stopper, Rask, out of the equation altogether, thereby eliminating the ostensible safety net of an experienced colleague. Adding to the healthy challenge would be Svedberg’s first regular-season outing as an NHL backup.
So far, since returning to Providence at the end of training camp, the second-year North American professional has had only one fleeting stint with the parent club. That in-and-out promotion consisted solely of his first meaningful start with Boston, when he bested the visiting Nashville Predators on Jan. 2.
Rask was the one on standby on the bench that evening. In other words, he saw pre-game action and theoretically could have gone into the game at any time, therefore it was not a complete day off for him.
Despite Johnson’s reliability, there is still sufficient reason to believe that the Bruins are warming the backup seat for Svedberg as early as 2014-15. His talent and track record, complete with last year’s Baz Bastien Award as the AHL’s best netminder, point to him as the logical long-term apprentice for Rask.
Therefore, while Johnson serves as the present No. 2 goalie on his one-year deal, the Bruins should take the occasional moment to get Svedberg accustomed to his presumptive future role.
Saturday will be a primal time for that, and all because Rask could use the resultant respite before a rigorous Russian rendezvous. Ditto Feb. 26, when the Finnish fortress will be freshly back from the journey and on the heels of his second transoceanic flight in less than a month.
By giving Johnson, and possibly Svedberg, a look on those occasions while relieving Rask of any obligations, the Bruins can simultaneously work to prepare for and prevent the worst.
They need to ensure that their backups are prepared to live up to that very title. They also need to ensure that their No. 1 netminder, the man who inevitably consumes more ice time than anybody else on the roster, is in the best shape to blossom come spring.
Immediate pre-Olympic and post-Olympic breaks for Rask may not be a foolproof preventive cure-all on that front. Yet to do without that would be tantamount to flirting with fatigue down the road.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com