Thursday, May 08, 2014

I'm Going to Criticize Tuukka Rask, Because He's Not Doing His Job

Tuukka Rask wasn't THE reason the Bruins lost Game 3 to the Canadiens. However, his job is to help the Bruins win, not just to avoid being a reason they lose. He didn't do much to help them win Game 3. Nor did he do much to help the B's win Game 1. Had the Bruins won Game 3, his play wouldn't have been a reason they won.

Here's what makes the goaltending position so important and so special: good goaltending covers for bad play. Good goaltending keeps a struggling offense close to their opponent, it prevents turnovers and defensive lapses from becoming goals. Pundits and fans have been pointing to defensive miscues and poor performing forwards as reasons the Bruins lost Game 3. And while that's accurate, it's also within the powers of the goalie to mask those weaknesses, and help his team win despite their failings. Tuukka Rask didn't do that.

It's okay to criticize Rask for not doing what he's capable of doing.

For instance, he is quite capable of making saves on breakaways. Like this one in March...

This year he had a .727 save percentage in shootouts. In his career it's .694. So about 70% of the time that he's facing an opponent's best shooters one-on-one to decide a regular season game, the puck doesn't go in.

And in the NHL as a whole, shooters converted 31.65% of shootout attempts. More than 2/3 of the time (68.35%), the puck fails to go in and the goalie is successful.

Breakaways aren't easy to stop, but they are stopped very often.

Rask is quite capable of stopping Dale Weise (who has 10 career goals) on a breakaway. Had he stopped Weise's breakaway, Rask would have helped his team win. It's okay to criticize him for failing there. And yes, it is a failure. A goalie of Rask's caliber, who stops 70% of shootout attempts, leaves his 5-hole wide open and allows a 4th liner beat him? That's a failure.

Even if you disagree with that assessment, you must concede that Rask didn't come up with a big stop there. And a big stop would have helped the Bruins win. On that play, Rask didn't help the Bruins win. Which means he didn't do his job.

In Boston we've seen how much of an impact big stops can have in the playoffs. The breakaway and odd-man rush saves can be seen at 0:00, 0:16, 0:30, 0:50, 1:41, 2:30, 3:03, 3:35, and 5:17.

I once thought it unfair to compare Rask or any other goalie to what Tim Thomas did in the 2011 playoffs. It was superhuman at times. Then I heard the Boston Globe's Christopher Gasper argue that Rask's stats in the 2013 playoffs were comparable to Thomas' in 2011, so the performance levels were also on a similar level. Really? Even though Rask lost 3 in a row against Chicago that year, allowing 11 goals in those 3 games?

Rask rarely gets criticized for not helping his team win playoff series. And he should. Such shortcomings are not new. In 2010 Rask was a significant contributor to the Bruins' 3-0 collapse to the Flyers. He allowed 16 goals in the final 4 games, and in Game 7 he failed to hold a 3-0 lead. Last year the Bruins had a 2-1 lead in Game 6 against the Blackhawks, who scored twice in the last 2 minutes to win the game and the series.

In 2010, 2013, and now in 2014, many are quick to point out the various other reasons that the Bruins have lost games and series. David Krejci was hurt at the end of that Flyers series, as was Patrice Bergeron in the Stanley Cup Finals. There were turnovers, Tyler Seguin wasn't scoring, Milan Lucic wasn't finishing opportunities. All valid points, all true, all contributing factors to defeat.

It isn't about blaming Rask, it's about pointing out when he hasn't helped the team win.

As I said earlier, good goaltending can make up for those deficiencies. Tim Thomas' goaltending carried the Bruins when their power play was the worst to ever win a Stanley Cup. Patrick Roy's goaltending did it for the Canadiens and Avalanche. Jonathan Quick's goaltending did it for the Kings. Carey Price's did it in Game 1. Tuukka Rask's did it against Detroit.

The Bruins have the good goaltender. Now they need him to play up to his ability. They need good goaltending from that good goalie.

Tuukka Rask, more than any other individual player on the Bruins, has the power to turn this series around. When a defenseman turns a puck over, Rask has the power to stop the ensuing breakaway. When the Krejci line doesn't produce, Rask has the power to keep Montreal scoring to a minimum.

His job is to help the team win. It's time for him to do his job.

Photo Credit:
Allen McInnis, Montreal Gazette

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