Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Don't look now but the good Tuukka Rask has returned

Matt Kalman
November 21, 2018 - 10:57 pm

Tuukka Rask is back.

Not only is he back from his four-day leave of absence to take care of a personal issue, he’s back at the top of his game. And in the two games he started on the Bruins’ 1-1-2 road trip he was the No. 1 reason Boston picked up a point in each contest.

Rask made sure the Bruins accumulated their fourth point of the road trip with 24 saves on 27 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss at Detroit on Wednesday. Combined with Rask’s 36 saves in a 1-0 overtime loss at Dallas on Friday, he had a .938 save percentage on this road trip and he now has a .912 save percentage for the season.

It doesn't take a mathematician or a Rask hater to notice that Rask had just a .888 save percentage in the Red Wings game, but you had to look beyond the numbers to recognize Rask’s brilliance in Motown. Detroit had the better, closer offensive chances all night, especially in the third period. Of the 12 shots the Red Wings landed on net in the third period, more than half of them came from below the dots. The Bruins’ injury-depleted defense corps mismanaged the puck too often in all three zone, gave up too many odd-man rushes and broke down in coverage too often in the defensive end.

This heat map from NaturalStatTrick.com shows you how the Red Wings were working the puck to the middle and toward the net while the Bruins were often settling for shots from way out on the perimeter.


Meanwhile, coach Bruce Cassidy’s goaltending decisions are getting more difficult. Rask is clearly mentally ready to assume his role as the No. 1 but Jaroslav Halak hasn’t given a hint that he’s ready to relinquish playing time.

The bet here is that the Bruins continue to rotate their goalies. And with the injury-depleted roster destined to give up more shots on net and scoring chances than a fully-healthy Bruins squad normally would, there’s nothing wrong with the Bruins letting Rask and Halak share the workload to avoid burnout.

*Defenseman Steven Kampfer paid the biggest price for the Red Wings’ game-tying goal at 8:59 of the third period. Kampfer got caught skating up ice for no reason with Boston protecting a one-goal lead, and the result was Andrea Athanasiou’s first of two goals. Kampfer didn’t play the rest of the night.

*For a few moments it seemed like rookie center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson was benched for scoring his second NHL goal. After he gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 4:08 of the second period he played just one more shift before the second intermission. But NESN cameras showed a play where he blocked a pass and the puck hit him in the face. Forsbacka Karlsson returned and played a regular shift in the third period.

*I’m not a big believer in faceoff stats telling the whole possession story in a game. Studies have shown that often the team that wins a faceoff doesn’t retain possession for more than a couple seconds on average. But the Bruins were just 23-for-57 on faceoffs and it showed up in a lot of Detroit’s attack. David Krejci was 4-for-14 in his second game trying to be the Patrice Bergeron-less Bruins’ No. 1 center.

If the Bruins can’t solve their faceoff problems they’re going to have to do a better job of defending away from the puck and getting on the forecheck quicker to regain possession. Or it’s going to be a very long month or more without Bergeron.

*Chris Wagner’s first goal in 17 games gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead at 6:45 of the third period. It was a just reward for a fourth line that had an improved game. But Wagner, Sean Kuraly and David Backes were also on the ice for Tyler Bertuzzi’s goal against. And one would like to see that fourth line make more plays rather than just throwing the puck on net from wherever they get it. Shots from the blue line without a screen are just giveaways that don’t get scored that way.

Related: Kalman: Spotlight on Krejci with Bergeron out of Bruins lineup