December 15th, 32 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Sabres was the last time Tuukka Rask saw time between the pipes. Despite the fact that Tim Thomas has arguably been the NHL’s top goaltender, not to mention feel good story of the first half, Rask has been relegated to a mere spectator. The bounces have not gone Rask’s way this season, only 2 wins to 7 losses, but sports a .927 SV% and a respectable 2.57GAA. There were fears of a sophomore slump, and forwards have had time to study Rask and have targeted high glove as his Achilles Heel, but Rask has had little to no chance to make game adjustments going long stretches between starts.
Claude Julien has obviously missed the memo that he has TWO of the most talented players in the most physically and mentally challenging position in the game. He seems entrenched in the idea of riding Thomas until his surgically repaired hip gives out or maybe he has stock in Timmay’s favorite celebratory burger joint. Regardless, as the Bruins near the midpoint of the season, Julien seems to be oblivious to the fact that the Stanley Cup is not won in December, and playing an already fatigued Thomas, while Rask picks splinters out of his behind is reckless personnel management.
When was the last time the B’s appeared the Cup final?? See the previous post with the comparison of the ’10-11 Bruins with the ’89-90 B’s. Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin split the netminding duties down the middle during the regular season in both 88-89 and 89-90. The B’s had the good fortune of having a fresh Lemelin step up in 88-89 and Moog in 89-90, and the tandem brought home the President’s Trophy in 89-90. WHAT IS SO BAD ABOUT HAVING GOALIES SHARE STARTS??? Think that the Devils or Rangers would like to have a young protégé waiting in the wings to spell Marty Brodeur or Henrik Lundqvist? Granted, the Habs traded away Jaro Halak as to not disturb the delicate mojo of Carey Price, but teams like the Penguins, Capitals, Predators, Red Wings, and Blue Jackets have benefitted greatly from developing balance between the pipes.
I am fully aware of(and generally agree with) Julien’s oft stated philosophy of riding the hot hand in goal, and rewarding strong play; however, getting Rask a start and getting him into the fold should be atop the“to do” list. Keep in mind; it is not like Thomas plays a compact, energy conserving style, and he did have major hip surgery in the off-season. In fact it was evident in his game against the Lightning on Tuesday, the second game of a back to back and his 26th start (of 35 Bruins’ games) that Thomas was fighting a bit of fatigue, and fighting the puck a bit as a result.
What is Julien telling young Rask about his confidence in his ability to contribute by leaving him on the shelf? This season Julien has benched Tyler Seguin, Adam McQuaid, Nathan Horton, and Marc Savard to “send messages” to the players, yet is he really oblivious of the message he is sending Rask?
If the Bruins are to make a serious run in the second half of the season the team needs to play a strong defensive game and be consistently gritty, their failure to do so has been, by and large, camouflaged by Thomas and his unreal play this season. Julien needs to rest Thomas and send the team a message that they can not rely solely on the play of Thomas to hide their deficiencies. It is also a necessity to include Rask in the flow of play, and give him the opportunity to develop and grow in game play.
I have been critical of Julien’s personnel management decisions, defensive pairings, line combos, and even the PP combos, but nothing has the potential to be as damaging to the team’s success, in both the short and long term, as his current mismanagement of Thomas and Rask. Managing goalies and their egos is a tricky business, but with the B’s on a 5 game roadie and having Thomas start the first 3 (and 7 straight) is pushing the envelope for both Thomas and Rask, as well as sending the B’s the message that Rask can not be counted on to get them a win on the road. Being honest, it’s not like Atlanta is the most difficult rink to play in as an opposing goalie, and there is likely to be a bit of a buzz between the teams tonight after last week’s clash. THIS would have been the perfect moment to hand the reigns to Rask. If Julien can’t demonstrate trust in Rask and the Bruins to step-up in this game then there are much bigger problems looming for this team in the second half of the season.
About the Author: NHL Blogger, a fan of the Boston Bruins for 40 years, mom to the famous/notorious Bruins dog blogger, The Pup. The Pup is a savvy hockey dog in search of cookies (the jar is on the top shelf).