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2011-12 Boston Bruins Player Report Cards: Tuukka Rask

Relax, Tuukka, it's just Scott Gomez.  You could be protecting a soccer net and he wouldn't score.  Tuukka stopped this shot (of course) and plenty others in 2012, but how did he grade out?
Relax, Tuukka, it's just Scott Gomez. You could be protecting a soccer net and he wouldn't score. Tuukka stopped this shot (of course) and plenty others in 2012, but how did he grade out?

Few players were more victimized by the Bruins' streakiness than Tuukka Rask. Despite a .929 save percentage and 2.05 GAA, Rask managed an unimpressive 11-8-3 record. My first thought was, "well, he must have been victimized by poor scoring support, right? Maybe there's some slim evidence to support this asinine claim that he 'doesn't know how to win'?"

Nope. The Bruins scored 67 goals in Rask's 22 starts. With support averaging three goals per start, and giving up an average of two, Rask should have been much, much better. Six times, the Bruins scored 0 or 1 goals during a Rask start (all losses), and six times, they scored 5 or more for him (all wins). So in over half Rask's starts, it barely mattered how good he was. He could have been Patrick Roy on his best day, and it wouldn't matter if the Bruins couldn't put it in the net, or he could have been Marty Turco on a regular day, and it wouldn't matter, because he'd have a mountain of goals backing him up.

A late season injury took Rask out of action for the rest of the year, but it was a moot point; the Bruins were pretty well locked into the #2 spot in the East and were going with Tim Thomas in the playoffs. So, for what he was asked to do (back up Tim Thomas), Rask played quite well. Only St. Louis had a better goaltending tandem than the Bruins.

As you may have heard, Thomas will not be playing for the Bruins next year. Whether he'll be playing elsewhere, or fitting in some pond hockey with his kids between stockpiling canned goods and pitching fitness equipment remains to be seen. But the job will be Rask's and the question is whether he can do it over a full season.

Rask has 102 NHL games under his belt over five years (yes, five, look it up) during which he's managed a .926 save percentage and 2.20 GAA. That's probably enough sample size to tell us that Rask is the real deal, even though goaltenders are notoriously inconsistent. There's no reason to expect that the Bruins will sustain a steep dropoff next year in the net.

That's good, since the Bruins rely more on their goaltending than almost any other top-tier team. The Bruins were 13th in shots allowed, which is respectable, but look at the teams above them; only Vancouver and Nashville allowed more shots and could credibly call themselves Stanley Cup contenders. When the Bruins won the Cup, they were 29th in shots allowed. In 2009-10, 14th. In 2008-09, 21st. Analysts and writers cling to the old-school model of Boston as a grind-it-out defensive team, but nothing could be further from the truth. Boston is far more akin to a fire-wagon hockey team; they just seem like a defensive team because they like to hit people a lot. Boston needs a goaltender who can stop a high volume of shots; they won't be relying on the defense to keep those shot totals down.

Rask knows how to win; by that I mean he's good at stopping shots. That's the only thing a goaltender needs to do. It's the only thing he realistically CAN do, in fact; he can't skate the puck up the ice (or, at least, he shouldn't), he can't prevent shots, he can't score goals and he sure as hell can't inspire his teammates to glory like he's Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill. Rask's bizarre win-loss record over the last two years amounts to nothing more than the product of a small sample size.

When Rask won the starting job in 2009-10, he led the NHL in GAA and save percentage, but tired as the playoffs went on, all but collapsing in game 7 against the Flyers. One hopes that with experience has come some better fitness habits and endurance, as Rask is likely to be counted upon to start 50-55 games for the Bruins this year, and every single playoff game.

The question is not whether Rask will win games. He will. The question is whether he can hold up for a full season and postseason.

Grade: B+