BOSTON (CBS) – On the list of concerns for the 3-5-0 Boston Bruins, it’s probably somewhere off the paper right now.
Goaltending, so far, hasn’t been anything to worry about – as expected.
Through eight games, the Bruins rank a healthy 11th in the NHL with a 2.38 goals-against average. Both reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas and back-up Tuukka Rask have pulled their weight, even as the players in front of them have flubbed numerous scoring chances and, for some stretches, not even raised their heart faster than that of a brisk walk through Boston Common.
However, Thomas has taken six starts to Rask’s two. That’s not exactly the formula the Bruins were predicting when training camp commenced. For their immediate future and beyond, the Bruins need to do a better job of balancing out the goaltending playing time.
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Even general manager Peter Chiarelli admitted during a conference call on Tuesday’s off day for his team that Rask maybe should’ve taken another start or two at some point during the early portion of this season. But Chiarelli also noted a need to help Thomas recapture what he was doing last season.
To his credit, Rask is taking the lack of playing time in stride.
“It hasn’t been too bad yet,” said Rask after Monday’s practice. “A game-a-week pace, I think. Obviously you want to play every game, but it hasn’t been too bad. And the practices have been pretty good, so it’s OK.”
If the Bruins were to keep up this 2-to-1 rate for starts for Thomas and Rask, respectively, Thomas would clock in at around 58 games – four more than he played last season. Obviously, that pace isn’t going to last, and with the Bruins about to average a game every other day starting Thursday through practically Christmas, there will be plenty of opportunities for head coach Claude Julien to mix in the 24-year-old Rask.
The Bruins’ struggles might tempt Julien to ride Thomas, who has played very well early on, in an attempt to get his team turned around with the known quantity consistently between the pipes. While still a highly regarded young goaltender, Rask had his struggles last season, and those issues combined with some poor play in front of him to translate into a losing record (11-14-2). Now here he is off to a 0-2 start.
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That’s all the more reason to lean toward Rask. The plan to preserve the 37-year-old Thomas’ body is a sound one. He doesn’t have to prove himself, just play enough to stay sharp. Rask on the other hand, has to be able to test his mettle against opponents of all types (last season and thus far this year he’s been protected with starts against lesser competition) and the Bruins have to get used to playing in front of him.
There will come a time not too far in the future when the Bruins won’t have Thomas around and Rask will be their No. 1. So not only for their best shot at success this season, but for Rask’s development into their future backbone, the Bruins have to give the Finn bigger than a bit role in this year’s production.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com. He operates TheBruinsBlog.net and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter @TheBruinsBlog.