It is less of a hot take than simply a general rule of thumb that in hockey, you need a dependable goaltender (s) to get anywhere in the regular season and then more importantly in the playoffs. So far in 2018-19, Boston’s (14-8-4) goaltending situation hasn’t exactly been the picture of consistency overall but then you look at the numbers and realize that they have still somehow allowed the fewest goals (64) in the NHL. Jaroslav Halak (8-3-2, 2.06 goals against average, .936 save percentage & 2 shutouts) might be the best backup goalie that the B’s have employed in years but he is a bit of a journeyman for a reason. After getting off to another truly awful start to this campaign, starter Tuukka Rask (6-5-2, 2.59 goals against average, .915 save percentage) bottomed out with his leave of absence (that he requested to deal with a personal issue) in early November. Since he’s returned though, he’s been a different player and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Bruins because injuries have all but taken away any margin for error that they have for each game.
Rask’s first start back from his brief hiatus was a 1-0 overtime loss in Dallas (14-10-3) where he made 36 saves. His next start was on Thanksgiving Eve in Detroit (12-12-3) and despite his 24 saves, he found himself on the wrong end of another overtime defeat (3-2). He’s really turned it on in the last few weeks as Boston won 3-2 in Montreal (12-10-5) on November 24 (one of their best wins of the season) and then he stopped 28 shots last Thursday as the B’s held off the Islanders (13-9-3) at TD Garden. He was in net for Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Red Wings at the Garden but few except his biggest critics would blame him for the setback since he had 23 saves and two of the three goals that beat him came via deflections that no goaltender would have saved. The best way to tell that this is a more dialed in Rask came in his last outing since he wanted to drop the gloves with Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. The problem was that the referees wouldn’t let them do that, much to the disappointment of the Garden crowd.
“You need to get at least one (fight) under your belt in your career,” noted Rask. “I saw the opportunity and I know Jimmy pretty well. There’s a big heavyweight boxing match coming up tonight so I feel like it set the stage for that.”
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Boston has only scored 71 goals this season (2nd fewest in the Eastern Conference) for a goal-differential of plus-7 so clearly, they are surviving based on their endless rotation of defensemen (12 have already skated for the B’s this season) and goaltending. It’s not necessarily a formula for long-term success but head coach Bruce Cassidy realizes with his limited options in the lineup, this is the best way to get favorable results until Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy (who wore a black full contact jersey at practice on Monday for the 1st time) and Patrice Bergeron return.
It’s a busy stretch coming up for the Black and Gold as they travel to the Sunshine State to face Florida (10-10-5) on Tuesday (7, NESN) and Tampa Bay (19-7-1) on Thursday (7:30, NESN). They briefly come home to take on the Maple Leafs (19-8-0) on Saturday night (7, NESN) then they are in Ottawa (12-12-3) the following night (5, NESN). Halak’s most recent start was last Monday at Toronto so I would expect that Cassidy will give each of his goalies two starts apiece this week. If they are both playing up to their abilities, Boston could potentially have the best goaltending combination in the league before long.