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.”
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..