The Boston Bruins find themselves in a tough position. They are grasping onto a playoff spot, and their chances of playing past the regular season are in the hands of their divisional opponents.
With a league-high 54 games played, some in the same division have as many as five games on the Bruins, which means they could easily make up any ground. With Boston only holding a three-point lead on their closest competitor – the Toronto Maple Leafs – and currently trails the Ottawa Senators, that could mean trouble for their playoff chances.
What has gone wrong for the Bruins? What has put them in this position that could see them miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season? It wasn’t too long ago that this team won the President’s Trophy for having the best record in the league.
You can blame it on bad contracts, a roster that actually isn’t equipped to match the speed that has been infused into the game, or even the struggles of some of the top players on the team but in the end, blame has to fall on one area.
The goaltending needs to be better. Tuukka Rask has to be better, and the best way to solve that is to get the man some help.
It is clear now that the Bruins’ have no faith in any other goalie in the organization and have rolled Rask out there night after night, wearing out their franchise netminder.
The struggles have been clear for Rask as of late. The 29-year-old goalie has posted some of the worst numbers
among everyone at the position this season.
Of all goalies to have played at least 1,500 minutes at 5v5 (according to Corsica.Hockey), Rask has posted the fifth-worst save percentage. His medium and high danger save percentage ranks second and third worst in the league at 90.64% and 77.03%, respectively.
His goals saved against average (GSAA), which measures how much more, or less, saves a goalie makes above league average, is the third worst at a -6.02 mark.
He hasn’t been good, and the Bruins have struggled thanks to it. However, that hasn’t always been the case for Rask. He was named to the All-Star game for a reason. He started the season with his name in the Vezina Trophy race for the league’s top netminder.
The splits are quite shocking since the new calendar year has turned over. During the 2016 portion of the season, Rask was one of the best goalies in the league. Since 2017 has hit, his numbers show that of a player that should be struggling to keep a roster spot, let alone that of starter in the league.
*All stats based on 5v5 play, from Corsica.Hockey
Maybe the most shocking, and disappointing part about Rask play, is that shot-wise, he hasn’t been overworked. On the season as a whole, Rask has faced the second fewest shots against per 60 minutes (SA/60).
Their most recent game against the Washington Capitals was a true testament to his struggles, allowing five goals on just 22 shots faced. Rask was clearly uncomfortable, being caught out of position, and allowing some goals that he should stop easily.
Some Hope To Be Had?
Maybe if you want to look for a silver lining in Rask’s season, or at the very least his most recent struggles, there are some signs to keep hope going.
Rask hasn’t gotten a lot of goal support, as the Bruins have only scored 2.15 goals per 60 minutes while he has been on the ice. That total is the sixth lowest in the league. Despite allowing over three goals per 60 in January, his expected goals allowed is under two.
Expected goals allowed measures how many goals a goal should expect to allow based on several factors, which includes shot type, distance, the area of the ice, among others. More times than not, when these numbers are spread this much out, you can expect them slowly start matching up.
Since the year has turned over, only Cam Talbot and Mike Condon have played more minutes than Rask. Finding someone to play behind Rask will go a long way in deciding whether the Bruins will make the playoffs, or miss it for the third straight season.
Who Can Help?
It’s hard to get a good grasp on who will be available when it comes to the trade deadline, looking at the pending free agent list at the goalie position, there aren’t many names up for grabs.
Jonathan Bernier or Jhonas Enroth from the Anaheim Ducks are both pending UFAs and could add a reliable option behind Rask. The Ducks went out of their way to acquire Enroth so they may want to hang onto the depth they have.
The Bruins are in the playoffs right now purely because they have played more games than anyone else in the East. Their points percentage is 17th in the league, and the lowest out of any team in the East that is also in the playoffs. The Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators – the two teams they are fighting with the most for a postseason spot – have a points percentage far better than Boston’s, meaning that once they catch up in games played, they are going to blow by them in the standings.
Rask will be a big part of whether or not the Bruins are going to be able to hold them off, and if he continues to get overplayed, they aren’t going to be able to do so.