By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins never had a goaltending controversy.
Sure, “backup” Jaroslav Halak was across-the-board the league’s best goaltender for the first month of the season while $7 million starter Tuukka Rask went through his painful-yet-usual October no-show. And yes, Rask crushed the Bruins with ice-cold starts and repeated spirals out of control with enough bad goals to sink the Boo-Hoo Tuukka Crew’s finest vessel, all while Halak shined and nabbed points in every single start. In fact, Halak was forced into his first loss in a Bruins uniform by way of a 39-of-40 performance against what at that point was the best team in the entire National Hockey League.
Still, it was never going to be a “controversy” for Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy until both goalies stunk.
After all, trying to spin having one great goaltender and one simply OK goalie was never going to successfully fly when considering a “controversy.” No matter the pay or preseason expectations — both on the ice and in playing time — of each.
But the Bruins got their first taste of such a controversy Thursday night, as the visiting Canucks hammered them for eight goals, with Halak yanked after he allowed five goals on 19 shots before Rask stopped just 11 of the 14 shots he faced in relief.
“Goaltending, obviously, neither guy was on their game, so that’s a problem,” Cassidy said after the loss. “It’s going to happen.
“I didn’t think [Halak] was playing well, to be honest with you. He wasn’t tracking pucks well. He’s been very good for us. Tuukka hasn’t had a lot of work. An opportunity for him to go and work on his game. Didn’t work out the way we’d like to.”
Of course, blaming either Boston goaltender in an 8-5 loss is seriously goofy; Cassidy’s bunch were a defensive trainwreck, the B’s forwards considered today shot-blocking an optional task (especially on the penalty kill), and Cassidy was vocal in regards to his frustrations there and with the Bruins’ energy players, all of whom forgot to bring any to the table with their “effort.”
Even the move to Rask was criticized by Cassidy by the night’s end. And he’s the one that made that call in the first place.
“[Rask] didn’t make a lot of stops. He wasn’t asked to make a lot of stops. It was more, sometimes you do that to turn the momentum of the game,” Cassidy admitted. “I didn’t think we were out of it. Halfway through the third I second guessed myself; Maybe Jaro could’ve found his game, could’ve battled back, but it’s neither here nor there now.”
“I was just trying to keep it under 10 – that’s what I was worried about,” Rask, whose save percentage dipped from .909 to .901 with the shoddy mop-up performance, said. “But yeah, a loss is a loss, it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day.”
But it’s an example of how and when the strangely-desired ‘goaltending controversy’ can actually become just that.
If we’re being completely honest, the Bruins have not been a great team this season. You could say that they’ve a largely mediocre squad, in fact, and that they’ve simply survived on the backs of their superstar first line and Halak’s hot start. And though the Bruins snapped an even-strength, secondary scoring drought that spanned over 400 minutes in the losing effort, it’s impossible to consider their problems solved when Joakim Nordstrom is still the best fit with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on Boston’s second line and while David Backes is still considered the club’s best option in the middle on line three.
In other words, when push comes to shove, the Bruins are still a one line team.
Defenders Charlie McAvoy (upper-body and still not skating) and Kevan Miller (hand), also remain out of the lineup. With Adam McQuaid traded before the start of training camp, this injury rash has forced babyfaces like Jeremy Lauzon and Urho Vaakanainen into NHL roles this season, while Steven Kampfer has appeared in eight more NHL games than he would have had the Bruins entered — or even played at any point, really — the season at 100 percent on their backend.
This almost forces Boston’s goaltending tandem to have to play at an elite level.
Rask, even as the calendar flipped to November, has not done that on a consistent basis. The 33-year-old Halak, luckily for the Bruins, has. But if Thursday’s performance is a sign of things to come for the notoriously streaky netminder, the Black and Gold could find themselves in serious trouble.
And why Thursday’s loss is a potential stinger — beyond the eight-spot by the Canucks (their first eight-goal night in nine years) and the Bruins’ first night of eight goals against since Feb. ’16 — for the B’s.
Had Halak been relieved by the capable Rask that settled into something closer to a groove after his heinous shorthanded goal against in Monday’s overtime win over the Stars, he’s your starter Saturday night against the high-flying Maple Leafs. Had Halak continued to perform at the level he has throughout the first month of the season, his stranglehold on the bulk of Boston starts would have remained, and left Rask to figure out his game on his own time. Neither happened on Thursday, of course.
That’s left Cassidy in a truly ‘who knows’ spot in his starter’s crease — and with just one practice available — ahead of a weekend back-to-back against the Maple Leafs and defending Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights.
“We score five goals and usually that’s enough to win,” Cassidy remarked. “It’s going to happen from time to time.
“I think our goaltending has been generally – well, Halak’s been outstanding and Tuukka’s been solid. He’s had a couple games that weren’t terrific by his standards, but it happened tonight. They snowballed on both of them.”
Now, Cassidy has to hope the snowball melts by way of a hot streak in the Bruin net.
But which goaltender gets the call to perform such a melt-job is completely up in the air.
How’s that for a controversy?
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a voting member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.