Back in October, I wrote a Bruins' goaltending preview, and the basic message was "In Tuukka we trust, because it's Tuukka or bust."
And damn, how true is that as Boston treads deeper into the second half of the season?
To date, and overall, Rask has been excellent, everything the Bruins thought he would be when they signed him to that nice little eight-year, $56-million contract extension.
Here's a quick look at the numbers through Tuesday's game in Anaheim.
Record: 21-10-2 (tied for 3rd in wins)
Sv%: .930 (4th)
GAA: 2.05 (5th)
Shutouts: 4 (1st)
Total saves: 906 (10th)
Now, here's where we can start to ask a few questions. As of Jan. 7, Rask had already matched his games played total from last season (shortened, of course, due to the lockout). After five more starts and 11 more total appearances, he'll be in unfamiliar waters altogether, having never played in more than 45 games in a single season.
Based on his play as of late, one can't help but wonder if the heavy workload is taking a bit of a toll.
Case in point, here's Rask's save percentages from his last four starts: .750 (vs. ANA), .973 (vs. WPG), .839 (vs. NYI), .750 (vs. OTT).
The start against Ottawa came on the back end of consecutive games against the Senators, and Rask later admitted he wasn't meant to play in that game; Niklas Svedberg had been tabbed to make his NHL debut that day, but injuries on the blue line (added context!) forced Rask back between the pipes for one period before being yanked in lieu of Chad Johnson.
And that's the rub right there - why wasn't Johnson given the start when it became evident that Svedberg had to be removed from the active roster? Johnson's been alright in a backup role this season (6-3-0, .914, 2.34), but he's only on pace to make 16 starts for the Bruins this season and doesn't seem to be trusted enough to offset Tuukka in any meaningful way.
What further compounds any potential issues in net for the Bruins is Rask's Olympic status. He very well could be the starter for Finland in Sochi, and the added travel and game play could only serve to increase the amount of energy expended prior to another (hopefully long) playoff run for the Bruins.
So is there cause for concern here? Rask's career numbers (.927 Sv% in 160 career starts) suggest he can sustain a high level of play over an extended period of time, but it's a matter of if he can do it in the midst of a more concentrated workload. What's clear is that he needs a bit more help behind him; whether Johnson takes more starts and Boston gambles that he can maintain a winning record, or Svedberg gets an extended call up to see what he can do, or someone else is brought in to the mix, a capable and dependable backup is needed on the Bruins' bench.
The aforementioned injuries on the blue-line and a reliance on rotating crop of young defensemen play a part in this as well, and one can expect that Peter Chiarelli will work to solidify the back end to throw Tuukka a bit of a bone (Dan Girardi, anyone?)
In short, no I don't think there's cause for concern just yet. Every goalie has a down stretch, and, again, Rask's career numbers suggest he's an elite level goalie with the ability to sustain a high level of play. Having said that, Tuukka did not post a sub-.900 Sv% more than twice in a row last season, and never crept below .820 in a single game, so ... perhaps a slight "ruh roh" is in order.
Upcoming games against the Kings and the Sharks will be a big test, but the schedule gets a bit lighter towards the end of the month so hopefully Tuukka can get a bit of a break heading into Sochi.
In Tuukka we will continue to trust, but please, give the man a little help, eh Chia?