How Should the Boston Bruins Distribute the Goaltending Workload Going Forward?

Al DanielCorrespondent IINovember 14, 2014

WINNIPEG, MB - APRIL 10: Goaltender Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins looks on from the bench prior to puck drop against the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on April 10, 2014 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jonathan Kozub/Getty Images

When New Englanders began their work week, Tuukka Rask was the Boston Bruins’ masked man of momentum. Entering the weekend, the team has not a morsel of momentum on its side.

On the heels of back-to-back blowouts via Toronto and Montreal, the brunt of which Rask shared with Niklas Svedberg, the Bruins are eons away from their previous outlook. A pristine four-game, four-win homestand to start the calendar month has given way to reality.

How shall they learn from this? Not letting Rask take the full workload for two weeks at a time would be a start. Wednesday’s implosion in Toronto made it plain that, no matter what kind of hot streak he fosters, Rask will eventually wilt when the Bruins keep turning to him too much.

The next three weeks will present multiple opportunities to offer Rask three or four full days between appearances. There may even be one or two instances where he can separate his starts with a full week.

Would that be too much? Maybe, but the absence of a perfect formula does not excuse anyone from diligently deciding on the best available approach.

For the Bruins, the best approach is anything that averts burnout in their backstop. Although there is plenty of fault to go around after a combined two-game, 11-2 shellacking in Canada, reforming the rotation in net is clearly a must.

Granted, while it was his first start in two weeks, Svedberg initially held his own before enduring Thursday’s entire salvo in a 5-1 loss to the Canadiens. But the debacle was a secondary consequence of Boston leaning too heavily on Rask of late.

The previous evening, Rask blinked on three Toronto shots within the first three minutes, 32 seconds of the middle frame, letting an initial 1-0 deficit quadruple. Tyler Bozak’s power-play conversion would be the last shot he faced on the road trip, as Svedberg hopped on in relief at that point.

That meltdown served as November’s first blatant testament to Rask’s subpar season through five weeks. As of Friday morning, his .901 save percentage places him 35th among qualified league leaders. His 2.69 goals-against average, good for No. 26 on the NHL leaderboard, is nowhere near his familiar neighborhood.

None of his data from the 4-0-0 homestand was speaking to that. He consistently confined the opposition to a maximum of two goals and posted single-night save percentages of .923 or better.

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 13: Niklas Svedberg #72 of the Boston Bruins makes a save off the shot by Dale Weise #22 of the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on November 13, 2014 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI
Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

Then again, the four visitors—Ottawa, Florida, Edmonton and New Jersey—did not exactly bring the most sizzling strike forces.

But when his skating mates could not inhibit proficient puck-slinger Phil Kessel, Rask could not bail out the Boston blue line. The former Bruin connected on a pair of wristers from the faceoff circle to break Wednesday’s ice.

Toronto’s third goal, and last even-strength tally of the night, was the product of Rask’s twig parenting a radiant rebound for Morgan Rielly to slug home.

Based on those highlights (or lowlights), the Bruins would not have been much worse off if Svedberg had played the full 60 minutes. But if he had, perhaps his colleague would have been physically and psychologically refreshed in advance of the Montreal game.

Maybe then, Rask would have been in a position to use his veteran know-how in defense of Boston’s initial 1-0 lead. Perhaps he could have closed the wickets on the Dale Weise penalty shot that Svedberg let his five-hole open for.

And maybe then, the latter half of Thursday’s contest would have unfolded differently.

Come what may, Svedberg swallowed the freshest serving of vinegar; therefore, Rask ought to get the nod for Saturday’s matinee versus Carolina. He also makes sense to scrape the blue paint against St. Louis on Tuesday.

After that, opportunities to recuperate will come in a famine-feast fluctuation through the first one-third of December. The Bruins will also have no shortage of formidable adversaries for the nine games between Nov. 21 and Dec. 11.

The most opportune moments to preemptively relieve Rask in favor of Svedberg in that span will be Nov. 21, Nov. 28 and Dec. 6. The reasons are a mix between keeping the No. 1 netminder fresh and averting rust for the backup. While the latter has not been an egregious problem to date, it is advisable to ensure that it does not become one later in the season.

Rask can deal with 10-goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko and the Blues then cede the crease to Svedberg in Columbus next Friday. If the Bruins go with that plan, they will essentially have their do-over from this week, as Montreal is again on tap to complete a back-to-back set.

No one needs to contemplate the decision as to who stares down the Pittsburgh Penguins next Monday. But things get a little more curious when the Bruins go on a three-day Thanksgiving break, host the Jets on Black Friday then embark on a western road trip.

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 18: Tuukka Rask (L) of the Boston Bruins congratulates goaltender Niklas Svedberg #72 after his 4-0 shutout victory against the Buffalo Sabres on October 18, 2014 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rob Marcz
Rob Marczynski/Getty Images

If Svedberg is to face Winnipeg in its Nov. 28 visit to TD Garden, then Rask will go seven sleeps without authentic game action. The Jets tilt is Boston’s only engagement between the Pittsburgh game and its Dec. 1 visit to Anaheim.

If you phrase the dilemma that way, the best response is “so be it.” If need be, the coaching staff can get creative and try to devote an intervening practice day to a rigorous scrimmage.

Rask will need his rest to run on his rhythm when the Bruins cover California’s NHL bases. It is hard to envision Svedberg taking on the Ducks, Kings or Sharks.

Yes, Boston has a recent history of an inexperienced backup bolstering a win against the likes of Los Angeles. Chad Johnson did that on Jan. 20 of last season, one day after Rask lost a shootout in Chicago.

But Johnson had Johnny Boychuk, a healthy Zdeno Chara and a healthy Kevan Miller in front of him that afternoon. Boychuk is now an Islander, and even if one or both of Chara and Miller are back in commission by Dec. 2, they will still be replenishing their full form.

Furthermore, the Bruins will not even need air travel between their Dec. 1 engagement in Anaheim and their next stop. Road weariness will be no excuse for anyone, Rask included, in that particular instance.

Given that the fourth and final stop of the trip is also the only featured opponent with a losing record (6-9-1), Arizona should be Svedberg’s chance to get a look on Dec. 6.

That, of course, would entail another week-long gap for Rask, who figures to wage a staring contest with Finnish countryman Antti Niemi Dec. 4 in San Jose. After the Coyotes game, though, the Bruins do not play again until they host the Blackhawks on Dec. 11.

For that, consult the same solution to the potential gap between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1.

For the near future, the Bruins must avoid working Rask for more than three consecutive games and keep him primed for the more potent opponents. The best aspect of the short-term density of bigger matchups is the copious opportunity for the goalie and team to restore and retain mutual confidence. 

If they can do that, a refreshed and redressed Rask will have a chance to finish a slew of 57, 58 or 59 appearances stronger than he has started it.

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com and are through games of Thursday, November 13


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