Sunday night’s game was viewed as a big one for Tuukka Rask.
Sidelined for several games while Anton Khudobin ran wild on the West Coast, Rask was given a chance to get back in regular rotation with a start against the Edmonton Oilers.
It wasn’t exactly a smashing success.
With Rask between the pipes, the Bruins saw their winning streak come to an end by virtue of a 4-2 loss. While any impartial observer could tell you that Rask’s play was the least of the Bruins’ problems on Sunday night, the result leaves Bruce Cassidy in a tough spot.
Who does he start tomorrow night against Tampa Bay?
In a vacuum, Rask gives you a better chance to win against the top team in the East. He’s a better goalie than Khudobin and is 13-6-1 in his career against the Bolts. He also played pretty well Sunday night, so rust shouldn’t be an issue.
However, Cassidy will be facing mounting pressure to go back to Khudobin, and it’s not hard to understand why. He hasn’t lost in regulation this season and was a key cog in the recent winning streak. Lately, he seems to have the borderline fluky, 2011 Tim Thomas-esque knack for being in the right place at the right time.
One couldn’t fault Cassidy for wanting to ride the hot hand either: one guy hasn’t won in a while, and one hasn’t lost in a while. Simple.
But looking at the larger picture, one could argue that riding the hot hand is less imperative than the Bruins getting Rask going in the right direction.
While Khudobin’s play has been great, it’s found money: the Bruins weren’t expecting this out of their back-up goalie. They wanted merely serviceable play from their back-up, enough to spell Rask and give him the breather he’s needed over the past few years.
Khudobin already has as many wins this season as he did all of last season, in five fewer starts. (As an aside, it seems nuts that he only started 14 games last season, but…)
While fairy tale runs are great, Khudobin’s bubble is probably going to burst at some point. He’s not a Vezina-level goalie, and his string of Thomas Magic is only going to take the team so far.
When he comes back down to Earth, the Bruins could be left in the unenviable position of having an actual number-one goalie who hasn’t played regularly in several weeks. And while Rask doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who lacks self-confidence, one couldn’t be blamed for worrying about it becoming an issue the longer this continues.
If getting Rask back on track is the ultimate goal, then he should start tomorrow against Tampa. From there, Cassidy can go with the winner: if a goalie wins, let him keep playing, barring back-to-back games; if he loses, bring in the other guy and follow the same logic.
Chances are things will start to even out with this approach, with Rask progressing to his career numbers and Khudobin regressing slightly. In that case, you’re left with two above-average netminders to chase down a playoff spot.
Not a terrible problem to have.