By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — A common drawback with national sports broadcasters is that they can’t focus on a single team. Their coverage spans entire leagues, which can water down their knowledge of the real problems with certain teams. At the same time, the broadcasters’ deep knowledge of the game in general causes fans to gravitate to their words and take them at face value, and justifiably so.
Former Boston Bruins head coach and hockey legend Don Cherry is one of those guys. His passion for hockey is unrivaled and his history in the game spans decades, so he understandably remains one of the most respected and admired voices in the game. But sometimes he’s just flat-out wrong, and exposes his lack of intimate knowledge about a team or player. His recent tweets about Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask reflect that.
According to Cherry, Bruins fans are “wondering” why the team has struggled as of late. Here’s his theory:
In fairness to Mr. Cherry, whom I respect and admire very much as a hockey analyst and ambassador for the game, Rask has not had his best season. He carries the third-highest salary and cap hit among all NHL goaltenders according to Spotrac, so he ought to be expected to occasionally steal a game for a team struggling in front of him, or make a big save in a tough spot like breakaways or odd-man rushes. Rask has not done enough of that in 2015-16.
However, to say Rask “can’t stop a beach ball” is to demonstrate a striking lack of awareness for how things really are in Boston this season, which is somewhat alarming for a man analyzing his former team and has undoubtedly watched thousands of Bruins games over the years. To launch such an exaggerated barb at Rask indicates that he’s not aware of the severe regression of the Bruins defense this season.
Mr. Cherry comes across like someone who hasn’t witnessed 38-year-old Zdeno Chara’s unfortunate decline, which appears sharper every day. It pained him to say Chara looked old and tired two years ago, and perhaps he’s still in a bit of denial over it.
When Mr. Cherry watches game highlights like Patrick Kane’s breakaway goal Sunday afternoon, he sees a big-time goalie that can’t come up with a clutch save against another big-time player. He doesn’t see any defensemen screwing up, even though the play happened in the first place because of an ugly turnover by Joe Morrow.
When Mr. Cherry sees Jonathan Toews bury a one-timer from Marian Hossa on a 2-on-1, he sees another failure by Rask, even though it was because of Torey Krug needlessly floating down low while the Blackhawks changed lines behind him, leaving arguably the best hockey player in the world streaking toward Rask virtually uncovered.
There’s no doubt that Rask has his shortcomings. His game is predicated on anticipation, positioning, and body control. Rask doesn’t play with the kind of looseness or aggression of a goalie like Jonathan Quick, who is better equipped to stop breakaways or odd-man rushes, so in those situations he can be vulnerable.
However, Rask is far from the only goalie who has struggled against world-class players bearing down on him with little to no defensive help. It’s a stretch to suggest that Rask should bear the blame for allowing goals like this. You wish he could come up with a big save in those spots more often than he does, and as a $7 million goaltender he should, but that’s not to say the guy “can’t stop a beach ball.”
Cherry remains one of the most respected voices in the sport, so those who are relatively unfamiliar with the Bruins’ struggles on defense this season will take these comments as a fair indictment on Rask. They’ll look at the team’s goal differential and reach the cushy conclusion that it must be the goaltender. Sometimes Rask can accept some blame for soft goals, but it’s clear to those who have been paying attention this season that most of the team’s problems in 2015-16 stem from the lack of talent on the blue line, not a lack of talent in the net.
All due respect to Mr. Cherry, he should watch more Bruins games before making such a dramatic assertion about a goalie who has been constantly under siege from excessive odd-man rushes and an utter inability to clear the front of the net all season. Mr. Cherry deserves every bit of adulation he has earned in his career, but even the biggest voice in hockey can be wrong sometimes.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.