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Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Jan 18, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) tends the goal during the first period against the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden. Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

An attempt to go from zero to vintage 40 without a bump in the road has not gone as planned for the Bruins and veteran netminder Tuukka Rask.

Hammered for five goals on 27 shots in Monday’s loss to the Ducks, Rask’s save percentage dipped from .857 to a gross .844, while his goals against average ballooned from 3.87 to 4.28. Monday’s losing effort was also Rask’s second time seeing a five-spot hung on him in less than a week. It’s the first time that’s happened to him since February 2016.

“Well, he’s not where he needs to be,” Bruce Cassidy said. “I mean, that’s evident.”

“You’re a proud player and try to set your expectations high, but the reality sometimes doesn’t match it,” Rask acknowledged. “Obviously, I haven’t been good enough. You know, the inconsistency within the game and from game in and game out has been there and I just gotta fix that. But yeah, [I’m] not satisfied, obviously.”

This isn’t how anybody drew it up when the sides decided to outright skip a planned rehab assignment in Providence and put the pen to paper with the hope that practice would be enough.

But this isn’t all that out of character for the 34-year-old Rask. In fact, he’s been a nearly chronic slow starter.

Tuukka Rask’s first month of the season (since 2014)

January 2022: 2-2-0, .844 save percentage, 4.28 goals against average.

January 2021: 3-3-1, .890 save percentage, 2.49 goals against average.

October 2019: 6-0-1, .951 save percentage, 1.41 goals against average.

October 2018: 2-2-0, .875 save percentage, 4.08 goals against average.

October 2017: 1-3-2, .896 save percentage, 2.93 goals against average.

October 2016: 4-0-0, .958 save percentage, 1.25 goals against average.

October 2015: 3-3-1, .889 save percentage, 3.29 goals against average.

October 2014: 4-4-0, .899 save percentage, 2.82 goals against average.

It’s clear that there’s really no middle ground here. Rask either starts white hot or ice cold. Right now, it looks like it’s the latter in 2022, especially when it comes to Rask finding that comfort and consistency. That’s without getting into the nearly 200-plus break between game action this time around, which is a career-long for Rask. This is also Rask’s first post-surgery ‘first month’ since October 2017, which came five months after Rask underwent groin surgery.

The Bruins understand all of that, which is why they’re not panicking just yet.

“We weren’t sure he would be [where he needs to be] this soon,” Cassidy admitted. “I think you need seven or eight starts, probably. He’s gotta sort through it, get through the kinks in his game, track pucks a little better, find pucks, puck touches, [and] all the things that you have to get back in your game where he feels good about it.”

You’ve certainly seen some of that, too. The timing just seems a bit off. Rask found ways to recover in-game and earn victories over Philly and Winnipeg, but the hole was dug entirely too deep Monday, and the fourth goal he allowed against Carolina in his first loss of the season was an example of the minuses that are killing any idea of progress.

“Looking briefly at some of those goals, I’m too deep in the crease, giving too much in a way and then tracking the puck, obviously, it’s not as sharp as it should be,” Rask noted. “A lot of things. But it’s going to come. I’m gonna work on it. And, you know, [I’ve] made some saves at times showing that it’s still there. But you can’t let in like one or two bad goals a game because then you’re doing the total opposite that you’re supposed to at that point.”

The only remedy, according to both Cassidy and Rask, is playing time.

“He’ll need more starts and then we have to evaluate it, right?” Cassidy said. “Sometimes it’s like any other position. You have a little success and you feel better about your game. So that’s where we’ve got to get to.”

The Bruins will feed him more of that on their upcoming road trip, too, with Linus Ullmark slated to get Wednesday night in Colorado and Rask set to play either Friday night against the Coyotes and/or Sunday night against the Stars.

That will be start No. 5 or 6, inching the Bruins closer to that seven or eight-start window before worry starts to set in, and with Rask needing to find his consistency and build some momentum along the way.

“Midway through the season, we don’t have the luxury of throwing games away by putting me in there trying to figure it out,” Rask admitted. “I need to be sharp every time I go out there, and that’s my job to find it.”

Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 5-3 loss to the Ducks..

  • Jan 24, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Jakob Silfverberg (33) controls the puck in front of Boston Bruins center Curtis Lazar (20) during the second period at the TD Garden. (Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)

    Bruins beginning to notice a troubling trend

    The Bruins’ struggles over the last week go beyond what’s been average-at-best goaltending.

    In three of their last four games, the problem for the Bruins has come down to slow starts, and with the Bruins looking woefully unprepared to set the tone in their own barn. Now, some of that is probably with teams noticing the Black and Gold’s recent improvements and looking to offset it as best they can. (Few things are more in demand than a good road first period if you’re a head coach in this league.)

    But Monday marked the second game in a row where the Bruins were held to five or fewer shots in the opening 20, and were left chasing the game at the first intermission.

    “Clearly, we need to be better, a little more on our toes,” Cassidy said. “I can’t sit here and say exactly why today teams are coming in here [and] they’re there ready to play. I mean, Anaheim played Friday, well rested, but we had a day off [and] should be well rested as well. So that’s one we’ll have to continue to identify. That’s one of the things we did talk about, [but] didn’t execute the start we wanted, obviously.”

    “I think that we just have to be ready for teams to be ultra prepared for us,” Taylor Hall offered. “We’ve had a really good run here and teams know that. And for us it’s not some special way of playing that we have to do off the start. It’s just a simplified mindset and a way of playing that lets us feel good about our legs and feel good about our game right off the bat.”

    The difference for the Bruins on this front is staggering, too. When scoring first, the Bruins are a lethal 15-5-0 on the year. That’s a .750 point percentage, and the 11th-best in hockey. When trailing first, however, the Bruins are 9-8-2, and though that .474 point percentage actually ranks as the seventh-best in hockey, it’s a recipe for trouble when playing high-powered teams like the Hurricanes and Ducks, as the Bruins have learned the hard way.

    “It’s something that we’ve got to correct,” said Cassidy. “Especially at home.”

  • Jan 24, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Nick Foligno (17) checks Anaheim Ducks defenseman Josh Mahura (76) during the first period at the TD Garden. (Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)

    Nick Foligno exits with upper-body injury

    This was one weird night for Nick Foligno.

    The 34-year-old Foligno’s night essentially kicked off with a neutral-zone wipeout that led to a shorthanded goal. He went down the tunnel after that, but quickly returned. He also got in a TV timeout shoving bout with Ducks netminder John Gibson, and then dropped the gloves with the Ducks’ Sam Carrick.

    Foligno took an absolute shot to the face in that fight, and though he didn’t seem injured on the shot, it effectively ended his night, as Foligno made his way down the tunnel once he was out of the box and didn’t return.

    “I don’t know if it was in the fight,” Cassidy said when asked about Foligno’s ailment. “He’s got an upper body injury. I have not seen him yet. I’ll check in [on] whether we’ll have a better idea [Tuesday].”

    Injuries have emerged as an issue for the bottom-six grinder in his first year in town, with eight games missed due to an upper-body injury earlier this season and a recent five-game absence due to a lower-body injury.

    Foligno’s injury is also testing the left wing depth of the Bruins, particularly when it comes to its hard-nosed element, with Trent Frederic and Anton Blidh also out of action for the Bruins.

  • Jan 24, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf (15) celebrates with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) and left wing Rickard Rakell (67) after scoring a goal against the Bruins. (Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)

    Ducks’ success is throwing wrench in potential deadline plans

    With Monday’s win over the Bruins, the Ducks are officially closer to first place in the Pacific Division than they are being on the outside looking in on the Western Conference playoff picture. That’s a massive bummer for the Bruins, to be honest, as this is an Anaheim team simply loaded with pieces the Bruins could use this deadline.

    Up front, the big headliner is Ryan Getzlaf. I mean, talk about a home run of a No. 2 center. It’s no wonder the Bruins were among those interested in the Duck captain when he briefly tested the free agent waters last summer. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-shot center, who had a goal and an assist in Monday’s win, has turned back the clock with three goals and 26 points through 36 appearances this season.

    There’s also pending UFA forwards like winger Rickard Rakell (his 117 goals since 2016 are the 60th-most among all NHL forwards) and fourth-line heavyweight Nicolas Deslauriers. And though he’s not a pending free agent of any sort, there’s even been talk of the Ducks moving winger Max Comtois. Comtois would certainly check off the B’s wish list as a left winger with size, snarl, and an ability to drive offense from the high-danger areas of the ice.

    On the backend, there’s help on both the left side and right side with pending free agents Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson. Tell me either one of these guys wouldn’t provide a significant boost to Boston’s defense. Especially with the way this team tends to go about 12 deep on the backend every postseason.

    There’s also familiarity between the Bruins and Ducks, which seemingly always helps when it comes to trade negotiations, as the sides made two separate deals prior to the 2020 trade deadline.

    A lot can change between now and the deadline, of course, but we’re inching closer and closer to the Ducks being officially for real. That typically doesn’t equate to seller status, and that, in this case, is bad news for the Bruins.

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