WILMINGTON (CBS) — Whether they’re trading a top-four defenseman on the eve of the regular season, sending a player deserving of a chance in the NHL back to the American League for more seasoning or doling out goaltending assignments, the Bruins are always looking at the big picture.
It was with the big picture in mind that coach Claude Julien decided to not come back with goaltender Tuukka Rask on Thursday in Montreal after Rask was pulled the night before in Toronto because he gave up four goals on 16 shots in a little more than one period of action.
At least publicly, Rask was fine with the night off and backup Niklas Svedberg getting the start against the Canadiens.
“Well I said it before, I want to play every game,” Rask said after practice at Ristuccia Arena, where the Bruins tried to shake off losing to the Canadiens and Maple Leafs by a combined score of 11-2. “But obviously you want to get Svedy’s games too and you want to get me rest, and I had no problem with that. It’s still fairly early in the season and I’m going to get my chances to improve my record against them. Everybody always talks about Montreal, it’s a big game and everything, but we just try to take it as a regular game and try to play our hockey. So it’s not a big deal for me that I didn’t play against the Canadiens and bounce back. I know I’m going to get a bounce-back game [Saturday] and feel good about myself.”
I said and wrote prior to the Bruins’ departure for Canada that Rask and Svedberg should split the two games. First, Svedberg needed the work and hadn’t played in nearly two weeks. Second, it was time to give the Canadiens a different look considering Rask’s lifetime struggles (3-11-3 with a .902 save percentage and 2.80 goals-against average) against them. It was time to let Rask watch from the bench once in Bell Centre, and one could argue watching his team get routed without him could be a psychological boost. He can just go out there next time (which will have to be in the playoffs because the Bruins don’t go to Bell Centre again in the regular season) and figure he can’t be worse than the entire Bruins squad was Thursday night.
With few exceptions, Julien is a loyal coach to both players and game plans. He doesn’t veer off the path a lot, and one of his strengths is that everyone who matters knows what to expect from him and what he expects from them. If he’d changed the goaltending plan, especially with Rask having started five games in a row and getting roughed up by the Maple Leafs, that would’ve sent one big wrong message to the rest of the squad – that message being, you guys “stunk up the joint” in Toronto but here’s Tuukka Rask to save your rears in Montreal.
Even in giving up 11 goals, Rask and Svedberg were far from the problem in Toronto and Montreal. The top defense pair of Dennis Seidenberg and Dougie Hamilton looked like it was doing some sort of Keystone Cops routine on both plays that turned into goals against and ones that either bounced the Bruins way or were stifled by the goaltenders. The top-six forwards were in full zombie mode at both ends of the ice (even the sacred cow Patrice Bergeron) and the fourth line looks like it maybe should’ve signed three Shawn Thorntons instead of Simon Gagne.
The Bruins’ current dumpster dive could’ve been prevented by Superman performances by the goaltenders. But it’d be hard to find two goaltenders in the rest of the league that would’ve put up better save percentages against the high-quality chances the Bruins gave up.
“I think [Thursday] night for example, when two Ds [Hamilton and Seidenberg] run into each other it’s certainly not something that we designed,” Julien said to start a diatribe about all the errors his team has made recently. “You know we turn the puck over, both our Ds are totally on the outside, so it’s things that like that, the individual mistakes that are being made. You know we pride ourselves on layers. And on some of those occasions we didn’t have the layers. So you’ve got to look at your game and your focus and what you need to do here. But you know, when you’re not playing well everything looks bad.
“I can tell you when you just score one goal last night, it’s a power-play goal, where’s your 5-on-5? I’d like to think we have some good players up front that can produce 5-on-5 and it’s not happening. So to me we can look at a lot of areas, but I keep repeating myself. I think the biggest thing for this team right now that’s really mind-boggling is the inability, and I said that before even these last two games, our inability to do it for 60 minutes, stay focused, stay engaged and determined and all that stuff. So we’ve got to really work on that part of our game, I guess more than anything else that relates to X’s and O’s because I think the X’s and O’s will take care of themselves if we work on those elements I talked about.”
The way the Bruins are playing, no game can be taken for granted. Even if you count Carolina on Saturday as a sure two points, battles against St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Montreal loom on the horizon. Rask is certain he’ll be in finer form, but he thinks we’ll know more about the team when the dust settles and U.S. Thanksgiving arrives.
“It’s going to be really good test for us. … It’s going to be tough,” Rask said. “So we really need to play solid hockey and get back to our style of hockey for 60 minutes and not for just 20 minutes. It really, it’s going to show us where we stand against good teams. St. Louis is a really good team. Carolina’s playing good. So it’s really a test for us and usually when we’re challenged, we’re pretty good. So hopefully that’s the case again.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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