By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tuukka Rask is getting hot. Real hot.
With 24 saves on Tuesday night against the Wild, Rask finally recorded his first shutout of the season. It wasn’t the most strenuous night of work for the netminder, as Minnesota was on the second leg of a back-to-back and clearly didn’t have the legs to skate with the Bruins from the opening faceoff through the final buzzer. Nevertheless, the donut on the scoreboard continues a rather toasty stretch of goaltending for Rask.
After a pre-Christmas flop in Carolina, Rask has been excellent, going 4-0-0 with a .959 save percentage and a 1.23 goals-against average.
The stretch has helped to shape Rask’s overall numbers for the season to get closer to his career numbers, as his .920 save percentage this year is now just .002 points behind his career number of .922 — which ranks just .0003 points behind Dominik Hasek for the best career save percentage of all time.
Rask’s 2.43 GAA is still his highest in four years, but he’s dropped it from 2.72 to 2.43 in a span of just four games.
Rask obviously did not get off to the start that he wanted this season, which helped open the door for Jaroslav Halak to somewhat quietly seize the starting job for various stretches of the season. Sports being what they are, such a situation could be viewed as tenuous or controversial. But really, for the Bruins, the current goaltending situation is shaping up to be ideal.
Though Halak no longer leads the NHL in save percentage, he does still rank third, with his .926 mark. Halak also ranks fifth in the NHL with a 2.36 GAA, while Rask isn’t far behind, ranking eighth with his 2.43
As you might expect given such numbers, the Bruins are right in the mix for the Jennings Trophy, as their team GAA of 2.56 ranks second in the NHL, behind Nashville at 2.45.
For Rask, the situation is ideal, as his history indicates that he’s generally at his best when he’s asked to play fewer than 60 games. He’s currently on pace to play 40 games. He’s unlikely to stay exactly on that pace though, as his recent play warrants an uptick in starts. (Halak’s .884 save percentage over his last two starts might help force that issue, too.)
Fittingly, the ultimate test for this situation will come Thursday night, when the defending-champion Capitals make their first trip of the year to Boston. Head coach Bruce Cassidy said he initially had planned on starting Halak for that game, but the coach at least left open the possibility of changing his mind.
“We haven’t had much success against [Washington], so we’re leaning towards — I’ll tell you flat out — Halak because he hasn’t started against them in a Bruins uniform,” Cassidy said after Tuesday’s 4-0 victory over Minnesota. “That would just be a switch and getting Jaro his games, but yes, Tuukka’s now earning the … I don’t want to say the net back. I don’t think that’s the appropriate term. But [he’s earning] more starts. So, we’ll see how he runs with it.”
Washington, of course, is responsible for the worst performance of the Bruins and Rask this season, as their 7-0 walloping on opening night was a sour way to start the season for the Bruins. The five goals allowed on 19 shots for Rask that night worked to put him in a very early hole stats-wise, but he’s actually had a .926 save percentage and 2.24 GAA since that night.
Getting another crack at a Capitals team that ranks sixth in the NHL with 3.48 goals per game would be an appropriate test of Rask’s current temperature.
Regardless of whether he gets that opportunity or if Cassidy does roll with Halak, there should be no denying the incredible feat that Rask, Halak and Cassidy have managed to pull off this season. They’re maintaining tremendous goaltending, they’re essentially splitting the starts between the $7 million star and the $2.75 million journeyman, and they’re doing it all without inviting much — if any — controversy. At this point in time, it’d be hard to picture a better situation.