Anderson: Tuukka Rask is still smashing your outdated, lazy narratives

Ty Anderson
January 09, 2018 - 10:02 pm

Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

I am George Costanza and this upcoming column is the eclair sitting atop the trash.

The Bruins have a healthy lead for a playoff spot. They have recorded wins in all but six of their last 23 games, and entered their bye week with an 11-game point streak. Oh, and the players the Bruins need to be their best have been just that. Beyond, even.

But a 6-5 overtime loss to the Penguins on Sunday turned out to be the perfect time for some to wake up out of their month-long nap and remind us that they exist.

Their refrain was a familiar one:  After a 29-of-35 night, Tuukka Rask, forever haunted by a late-season sickness and the Bruins running out of gas against the greatest team of this generation in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup, is once again terrible.

I’ve been here. I know how this argument tends to go. I know I shouldn’t engage.

But, I can’t resist. So, “what the hell, I’ll just eat some trash.”

Before we really dig in, let me just say that I don’t need to carry Rask’s water. This is a player that definitely doesn’t know my name, and somebody I’ve probably had more snippy, borderline argumentative exchanges with than any other player I’ve covered in my seven-plus years around the Bruins. Part of that is probably on me for asking stupid questions, and also because I tend to ask him said stupid questions when everything has turned to the adjective he used to describe Sunday’s start in Pittsburgh.

(Also: Can we stop with this nonsense that says any writer or columnist that doesn’t agree with your exact viewpoint is carrying water for someone or publishing clickbait?)

Writing the following off as me defending Rask because he’s my buddy is ignores the column I wrote in November saying that Anton Khudobin won the job, and is really just you stuffing your fingers in your ears and screaming over the points. But feel free.

So, while I want to be nice and reasonable, I’m sorry, I have no other way to possibly explain it: If you’re walking away from Sunday’s overtime loss to the Penguins believing that Rask has regressed to what he was in October, you’re a bozo. You’re being intellectually dishonest and operating with a bias worse than Hockey Night’s Don Cherry when it comes to critiquing almost any player not from the Greater Trawna Area.

This is a goaltender that was just straight-up unconscious for over a month. Hell, he entered that start with just four goals allowed in his last 245-plus minutes in the crease. His December, which featured a 9-0-1 record and .955 save percentage, earned him the First Star honors as the league’s, uh, best player for the entire month.

To not expect some sort of natural comedown from that level is insane. To attempt and say that Sunday is the beginning of the end, however, is even more ridiculous.

Your ‘scoreboard watching’ in regards to the final line on Sunday fails you. Rask should have made stops on the two 55-foot one-timers he faced in the first period, and probably should have come through with the stop on Riley Sheahan’s game-tying goal in the third period, yes. But you could have made the point that he was the only reason the visibly exhausted B’s even escaped the arena with one point, as he made stops on all but one of 17 shots the Penguins threw at him in the third period. There were flashes of the goaltender that Rask has been for over a month within those struggles.

If you didn’t notice that, it’s because you’re lazy or simply didn’t want to.

Which I suppose would be in line with you still happily buying into outdated storylines.

It’s 2018. If you’re still grumbling over Rask’s illness preventing him from helping the Bruins get eliminated in five games instead of missing the postseason (that improved draft pick helped them nab Charlie McAvoy, by the way), you’re officially insufferable. You’re also missing the fact that Rask played through worse -- and for longer -- last year when he musculed through a torn groin that required offseason surgery. Soft, he is not.

And if you’re still adhering to the idea that Rask is not ‘clutch’ or capable of making timely saves, chew on this: Only three goaltenders have been better than Rask when on the penalty kill this season, as Rask’s .912 shorthanded save percentage ranks as the fourth-best among NHL regulars. And among goaltenders with at least 1,500 minutes in the crease, Rask ranks 15th in high-danger save percentage, at .804. It’s nothing seemingly spectacular on the surface, I know, but nobody’s higher than Corey Crawford’s .854, and Rask’s percentage is still higher than a Carey Price, Braden Holtby, and Matt Murray. It’s also a significant improvement from where he was in this stat three years ago (.768) and an improvement from last year’s .796. It’s especially impressive given just how poor Rask’s start to this current season was, too.

Before you fall over yourself to credit the defense for this uptick from No. 40, too, it’s worth noting that the B’s are averaging 5.67 high-danger shots against per Rask game, which would be the second-highest rate he’s faced over the last four years (5.86 per game in ‘15-16, when he posted a woeful .752 save percentage, remains the high).

Incapable of stealing a game or rising to stiff competition, he is not.

Most importantly, though, the accomplished netminder has taken criticism of his game to heart when Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has (successfully) pushed his buttons.

When Rask let the Bruins down in a win-and-in situation last season, and rightfully heard about it from Cassidy, he responded with a 4-0-1 record and .971 save percentage to finish the season. When in the postseason and struggling in a pivotal Game 3 only to lose a hard-luck Game 4 (he allowed one goal on 27 shots), Rask put the team on his back with a 41-of-43 win a must-win, double-overtime Game 5. And this season, when Cassidy was honest in his assessment that Khudobin was making the one extra save that Rask was not, resulting in what was almost a full Rask benching for a month, Rask has since responded with the hottest run in at least four years.

In short, it’s proof that he cares.

The $7 million goalie everybody accuses of not giving a damn, and simply being comfortable with making his money and putting up OK-at-best seasons into his 30s, seems to care about his teammates and performing to the level he’s expected to.

A heartless has been, he is not.

It should all be enough to buy him at least one off night.

Then again, I know better than to think any of this will sway you from your stance.

At least the eclair filled a craving.

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