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Tuukka Rask is squashing your contrived goalie controversy

That time off did him some good!

Boston Bruins v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After a rocky start to the season, the Bruins have gone 8-2 in their last ten games, putting themselves in a solid third place in the Atlantic Division. The quick rebound is largely due to a pair of turnarounds in categories that held them back early on: injuries and bad goaltending. We’ve covered the injury situation ad nauseam, so let’s talk a bit about the goalies.

Put simply, it’s been a tale of two seasons. Through the first seventeen games, the tandem of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin posted an underwhelming .904 save percentage. Rask was particularly off his game, with a miserable .897 in that span, while Khudobin was steady in limited action at .922. Things came to a head in Anaheim when Rask stopped just 23 of the 27 shots he faced, opening the door for Khudobin to go on a run. And run he did, winning three consecutive starts with one, one, and two goals allowed, then squeaking out a fourth win in a shakier performance against Pittsburgh.

Seeing the cracks forming in Khudobin’s armor, Bruce Cassidy went back to his franchise goalie and has hardly looked back since. After an 11-day hiatus, Rask has won four out of his five starts, posting an excellent .946 save percentage. The only game in that stretch that Cassidy gave to Khudobin ended with Rask in net.

Make no mistake: Khudobin deserved those starts and all the accolades he got for his stellar performance. He stabilized a crumbling situation and gave Rask time to battle through his struggles and a concussion. Plus, he’s a joy to watch when he’s hot. Those explosive saves and desperate dives make for quality television.

But none of that should have been enough to generate a real goalie controversy.

Even after his terrible start, Rask has now boosted his total save percentage to .912, just a touch above league average. While Khudobin sits at .922, keep in mind that he is volatile. That run of excellence was a wonder, but his bad games are far worse than Rask’s. Khudobin hasn’t posted a full-season save percentage above .909 since 2013-14. Rask has never finished below .915.

Now, Rask is not likely the same goalie he was at 26 years-old, when he took home the Vezina. Goalies are unpredictable, but what we do know is that injuries and age take a measurable toll on them. And it’s impossible to understate just how much Rask has played, which is more than anybody else:

Most used goalies since 2012

Player Season Team GP TOI
Player Season Team GP TOI
TUUKKA RASK 2012-2018 BOS 311 17927.25
BRADEN HOLTBY 2012-2018 WSH 308 17776.65
HENRIK LUNDQVIST 2012-2018 NYR 299 17367.4
DEVAN DUBNYK 2012-2018 MIN/ARI/EDM/NSH 284 16095.88
CORY SCHNEIDER 2012-2018 N.J/VAN 283 16448.94
COREYCRAWFORD 2012-2018 CHI 282 16366.55
PEKKA RINNE 2012-2018 NSH 281 16484.14
KARI LEHTONEN 2012-2018 DAL 278 15409.22
BEN BISHOP 2012-2018 DAL/T.B/L.A/OTT 271 15476.24
Goaltender games and ice time since 2012 Corsica

That’s five years of the Bruins leaning harder on Rask than any other team has on their goalie. It’s okay to no longer expect elite numbers from him. It’s also okay to understand that having a stable goaltender who rarely hurts your team is a big plus.

If Khudobin gets hot again, that’s fantastic. An extra start from a backup is a luxury Rask and the Bruins haven’t had since the days of Chad Johnson. But he is not the best goalie on the team unless Rask is hurt, tired, or obviously struggling.

On balance, the Bruins currently sit 16th in the league with a .908 team save percentage. That’s average. On the penalty kill, the Bruins rank fourth at .911 (Rask is an absurd .954 shorthanded, Khudobin a more sensible .854). That’s excellent. The goaltending has stabilized. The Bruins have a steady starter and an occasionally stellar backup, just the way they drew it up. No controversy necessary.

Now cross your fingers and hope they stay healthy.