Commentary

Tuukka Rask, Bruins scuffling along

A rare rough patch has beset Boston and its goalie, but there's no reason to panic

Updated: January 15, 2014, 8:57 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Tuukka Rask has not played poorly. He's not tired. He's not hurt.

The No. 1 goaltender for the Boston Bruins is simply not playing his best right now. Rask has admitted that, and so has Bruins coach Claude Julien. Both are saying this current lull in Rask's performance is normal for this time of the season.

"We know that there's something wrong, but there can't be any panic," Julien said. "It's about reeling him back in and getting his swagger again and he's going to be as good as he's ever been."

[+] EnlargeTuukka Rask
Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty ImagesTuukka Rask has lost three of his past four games to fall to 22-12-2 for the season.

As the Bruins prepare for a two-game road trip through Dallas and Chicago, Rask currently has a 22-12-2 record, along with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. He leads all goalies with five shutouts.

But Rask has won only twice in his past six starts, and he's been pulled twice in his past seven games. He allowed four goals during Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, though three of the goals weren't really his fault.

During the course of his past 10 games, his GAA has risen from 1.81 to 2.11. After Monday's practice at Ristuccia Arena, Rask explained he is studying the goals he has allowed of late and is analyzing what he can do differently to fix the issue.

"Sometimes you're the hero, and sometimes you're not. You've got to take it either way," Rask said.

Unfortunately for Rask he's been dealing with more of the negative than the positive of late. He never lacks in confidence and he's certain he'll work his way through this recent skid. A few times he has mentioned he's "fighting through it," but what exactly does that mean for a goaltender?

"Well, if you start feeling sorry for yourself, it's not going to help," Rask said. "I think that's the biggest thing. You recognize the goals you've let in; some of them are bad goals and then some of them you have no chance. I think lately there's been a few games where I've let in one bad goal. Not necessarily an embarrassing goal but like pucks going through me and stuff. So that's something I need to fix, but then you get those back doors and deflections and there's nothing you can do about it and you just have to stay with it and be focused on the next game, next puck, and hope for the best."

Boston is 3-5-0 in its past eight games. Many of the breakdowns have come on defense and special teams. When Julien has been asked about Rask's recent performances, the coach will characterize things as a total team letdown.

"I think it's a lot easier to look at a goaltender and say he's really struggling versus looking at a [position] player because he's surrounded by other players, so [Rask] will stick out a little bit more and that's why sometimes we are very protective of our goaltenders," Julien said.

When Rask signed an eight-year contract worth $56 million during the summer, he knew the responsibility that came with that deal. He's already played 37 games this season and is on pace to set a career high for games played in a single season (45 in 2009-2010). Rask expected this workload and Julien said his goaltender has been honest all season, especially about whether or not he's tired.

"He's not," Julien said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm always very conscious about the workloads, as you've seen in the past. Right now he feels great. He doesn't feel tired. He just doesn't feel his game is where it should be and we all agree on that. Again, there's a lot more to our losses than one guy."

Rask has been known during his career -- both at the AHL and NHL levels -- to lose his cool during games and practices. He hasn't pulled a nutty recently, and he admits he's trying to control his temper.

"I can't do that anymore, sorry," Rask said. "I've got to keep it inside me, we'll see. I'm not going to say I'm not going to do it again, but I'm trying to keep it in."

He learned during his development years with the P-Bruins that sometimes it's good to break a stick or two because it shows your teammates that you're emotionally engaged.

"Yeah, but when I do it sometimes it goes overboard, so I'm still trying to find that fine line -- what's good, what's not," Rask said.

Rask also admitted that someone in the organization spoke to him this season about controlling his temper.

"He's an emotional guy, but at the same time he understands how he reacts reflects on his teammates and everybody else and it does affect your teammates, so he's been good," Julien said.

[+] EnlargeRask
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsTuesday's 4-3 loss to Toronto concluded a 10-game stretch in which Rask's GAA rose from 1.81 to 2.11.

Julien is the type of coach who protects his players. Rarely (actually hardly ever) does he publicly call them out for poor play. He's careful with how much praise he gives out, too. His players appreciate Julien's approach, especially when it comes to the goaltending position.

"He's been pretty good with everybody with that," Rask said. "He does that but he expects us to work hard and be worth it, so it's good to have that trust and every player enjoys it here [knowing] you're not going to get publicly humiliated. We talk about things in the dressing room and address if something's wrong, but we keep it inside and don't humiliate each other in public, and that's good."

During Rask's recent struggles, Julien has been aggressively protecting his goaltender by not saying much. When asked why he's been seemingly more protective of Rask this season, Julien did not agree with that assessment.

"I've always protected players," Julien said. "There are times when you're being honest and I've been honest. I've said that [Rask] probably hasn't been at the top of his game, it's as simple as that. As a team, we like to work things out just with our play and with our actions vs. throwing people under the bus. It's a long season. There are ups and downs and you hear me say that numerous times. You don't throw people under the bus when you're going through some tough times. You try to support them and protect them a little bit."

Rask admits his recent string of games has been frustrating. He's been on the end of some bad bounces, deflections and goals that weren't his fault. He'll be the first to admit when he doesn't play well, but despite the team's recent skid, the 26-year-old netminder remains in control and calm.

"He's working hard and he's trying," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "I'm sure he would like to have some of those shots or goals back, but that's the way it goes and it's a long year. He's been really solid for us and outstanding, I would say. We're not worried about that, he's going to get through it."

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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