By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
With less than two hours to go before the Bruins 4-1 much-needed victory over the Nashville Predators at the Garden on Tuesday night, the team sent out an announcement that Zane McIntyre had been summoned to Boston on an emergency call up. That, of course, caused a firestorm on social media, with many simply assuming that starting goalie Tuukka Rask had begged out of yet another big game.
Of course, they were wrong; it turned out back up Anton Khudobin suffered a minor ailment, and his dressing for the game was in question. However, the reaction from both some of the B’s beat guys and some fans who hurled some nasty tweets on Twitter, just goes to show the reputation Rask has built when it comes to his reliability.
As it turns out, Rask’s return to the Bruins line-up was spectacular, which one of the reasons that so many people – media and fans alike – were pissed that he didn’t show up for Saturday night’s enormously important game against the Islanders in New York.
Rask’s talent has never been in question; he has a Vezina Trophy on his bookcase for a reason. What has been questioned – and will continue to be questioned, especially if he remains in Boston after this season – is his heart, his dedication, and his willingness to fight through minor ailments to show up for his teammates when they need him the most.
Although he experienced greater individual success in his professional career thus far, Rask is running the risk of becoming the Bruins version of Clay Buchholz. Physical gifts were never a question for the rail-thin righty from Texas in his time with the Red Sox; his mental and physical fortitudes were.
For stretches, Buchholz could pitch like the best pitcher in baseball, but when he faced adversity, he would melt like a popsicle in the mid-summer sun. And while Rask’s valleys might not be as low as Soft as Clay’s could be, the trust level that his teammates and organization had in his ability to come through when they need him most, is not exactly sky-high.
Granted, Rask has never been on the disabled list for months at a time because he slept wrong on his arm, but that speaks more to the difference in the mentality of both sports when it comes to injuries. My father used to say that Fred Lynn would miss three weeks with a hangnail; whereas the hockey player would rip the entire nail, tape it up, and not miss a shift.
There are two developing camps when it comes to Tuukka Rask; those who believe he can do no wrong, and that his inconsistencies come from being overplayed for the last few years. And those who are growing tired of him not showing up with the season on the line; as he did Saturday night, and the final game of the season against the Ottawa Senators with the playoffs in the balance last year.
There is a reason that Rask is the third highest paid goalie in the league, that is to be a workhorse for his team and carry them when needed. And while – like Buchholz – he has done that for stretches, there is always something that comes up that derails the train.
For those who would argue fatigue due to overuse, the numbers don’t back you up. For the last four seasons – including this year – here are Rask’s rankings when it comes to games started for netminders in the NHL. He currently ranks 7th this season with 59. Last season he ranked 7th as well, with 62. In 2014/15, he ranked 4th – the only year that the overuse argument holds any water – with 67; and in ‘13/14 he was 11th with 58.
Since his Vezina Trophy season in ‘13/14, his save percentage has dropped each year. From a high of .930 that season, he has posted a .922, .915 and currently sits at .910 after Tuesday’s win. While many will point – and rightfully so – to the diminishing talent that has been playing in front of him, the number of nights that his game hasn’t passed the sniff test has increased, not decreased over the same time span.
With his no-trade clause expiring at the end of this season, the chances of Rask being dealt has never been higher than they will be this summer, even though an in house replacement seemingly doesn’t exist within the Bruins organization at this time.
Trust is everything in a professional locker room, especially when you occupy the most important position on your team. And despite performing well in his return against the Preds on Tuesday night, I’d be willing to bet that in a candid moment over a couple of beers with current Bruins’ players, you would find Tuukka doesn’t have much of that with his teammates right now.