NHL hockey is on the verge of being back, and the Boston Bruins hit the ice today for the team’s first practice since March 10.
With Phase III training camp underway today at Warrior Ice Arena, we figured it was time to do some breakdowns of the Bruins by position. Watch for some insights from the Amigos during this 3-post series, but we’ll kick off with the look at the goaltenders.
Tuukka Rask: If goaltending in hockey is the ultimate X factor, Boston’s longtime No. 1 could be the biggest beneficiary of the COVID-induced time away from the game.
After nearly taking the B’s the distance a year ago, Rask turned 33 in March, so there was going to be some concern going into the playoffs about fatigue as it related to his 2019-20 workload and the run to the Stanley Cup final a year earlier. Well, throw that completely out of the window, as all NHL playoff goalies are as rested as ever. No excuses- it will come down to pure performance as the NHL returns to action early next month.
Rask is one of the most polarizing players in B’s history. His supporters love him and are fanatical in their belief that he is every bit as elite as the very best goaltenders in the game, not to mention the franchise. The statistics favor the fans: Rask has a proven track record in both the regular season and playoffs, with only a Stanley Cup championship ring (as a starter) preventing a definitive spiking of his NHL resume. The veteran was on his way to being a favorite for a second Vezina Trophy as the league’s top ‘tender when the NHL went on pause, but he and partner Jaroslav Halak locked up the 2019-20 William Jennings Trophy.
The detractors will always hang on the idea that he’s not a big-game goalie, pointing to the fact that Rask is 0-2 in the Stanley Cup final series of 2013 and 2019, while also coming up short in 2014, when the B’s won the President’s Trophy as regular season champs, but bowed out in the second round against Montreal.
Bottom line: Rask is still young enough and has ample experience to put this team on his back after another sensational campaign, going 26-8-6 with a 2.12 GAA and .929 save percentage. With ample rest and reset, there is no reason to think that Rask will be anything less than at his best when the games resume in early August. He’ll need to take care of himself in practice and ease his way in, but you couldn’t ask for a better scenario given Rask’s age and reputation for needing more of a balanced workload to keep him fresh for the playoffs. None of that is a factor now.
There is no debate about who the team is going forward with, and the situation in net has never been more favorable for Rask than it is now.
Jaroslav Halak: The B’s re-signed their veteran backup who can be an effective 1A were anything to happen to their starter at any time, so he’ll be back for the 2021-22 season.
He just turned 35 in May, but brings a wealth of regular season experience, along with another solid season with the B’s after he signed in the summer of 2018.
As for the playoffs, he hasn’t seen a minute of postseason action since 2015, a seven-game series with the NY Islanders. He’s not bereft of playoff experience, but the only real indicator of his abilities happened in 2010, when he led the Canadiens to an upset of the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, and took the Habs to the Eastern Conference final, where they bowed out to the Philadelphia Flyers.
With a 18-6-6 record with 2.39 GAA and .919 save percentage, he’s as good an option for worst-case scenarios as there is, which speaks to the Bruins getting him to sign on for another year rather than lose him to the open market.
Max Lagace: The first of Boston’s two black ace goalies, Lagace has been a pro since 2014 and bounced around between the AHL and ECHL before earning some NHL time with Las Vegas when goaltending woes hit them hard two years ago. He provided solid depth in Providence this past season, going 22-7-3 with a .919 save percentage and 2.37 GAA, but gave way with playing time to Dan Vladar, who posted outstanding numbers in the AHL, but has no NHL experience.
Dan Vladar: Starting out as Lagace’s backup, Vladar (pronounced Vlad-ash) played so well that he cut into the rotation towards the end of the season. Boston’s third-rounder in 2015 is finally establishing himself as the top prospect NHL scouts viewed him as in his draft season. He posted a .936 save percentage against a 14-7-1 record and 1.79 GAA. He’s massive and agile in the net. He still needs to prove he can perform at a high level over a bigger sample size, but he boosted his stock within the organization with the kind of season he had and his reward is to be around the team, getting a chance to practice, work out and be immersed in the NHL culture.