Part 1: What is Wrong with the Boston Bruins?

Boston Bruins v Chicago Blackhawks

(Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images North America)

There are many issues with this year’s and past versions of the Boston Bruins. The roots of these stem from goaltending, coaching, the defense, mismanagement, and the lack of consistency from key players. In this five part series, the obvious problems with the Boston Bruins will be noted and explained. This edition will evaluate how goaltending has and hasn’t contributed to missing the playoffs.

Goaltending is perhaps the easiest thing to point to when evaluating a team. If the season is going swimmingly, then nobody has an issue with the goaltending; however, when a team falls into a rough stretch of losses, the goaltenders are most often found assuming the position of the scapegoats for many fans. It seems as if Tuukka Rask, past backup Jonas Gustavsson, rookie Malcolm Subban, and current reinforcement Anton Khudobin, have found a home as the scapegoats for a sizeable amount of Bruins fans with some merit, but at the same time these particular people are overlooking compelling statistics, especially when it comes to Rask.

Tuukka Rask has not been the problem, period. For anyone who blames Rask, take a look at the defensive corps “playing” in front of him. Rask, managed to have a solid year during the 2014-15 season, the first in this series of playoff misses. That year, Rask played in 70 games, yes that many games, started 67 games, yes that many games, and posted a 34-21-0 record with a 2.30 GAA (goals against average) and a .922 save percentage. These are all very presentable numbers for a starting goaltender in today’s NHL. Contrarily, there were many games down the stretch where Rask wasn’t as sharp as he could’ve been and simply looked overworked and tired. Maybe because he played in, yes that would be correct, seventy games, who knows? Niklas Svedberg did not help at all as the backup since his incredibly suspect play led to distrust from the coaching staff; therefore, Rask had to log more games because of a lack of confidence when turning to Svedberg. Last season, Rask admittedly had an incredibly down year by his standards, finishing with a record of 31-22-0, a 2.56 GAA, and a .915 save percentage. The glaring number in those stats is the save percentage. When considering that, it is imperative that one remembers the group of defensemen holding down the fort in front of him and a poor penalty kill. Yes, he was extremely average, but when turning towards who to blame for missing the playoffs, again, we must note everything else that contributed. This is also considering the fact that he didn’t even play in the final game of the season which decided the Bruins’ fate. This season, through six starts, Rask has had an incredible start. He has come out of the gates with a 6-0-0 record, .951 save percentage, as well as a 1.48 GAA, while playing the first few games hurt. His most recent appearance saw him lead the Bruins to an entertaining victory in a shootout, something that has haunted him throughout his career. Rask was outstanding in regulation and overtime, and saved nine out of ten shots in the shootout against a dangerous Lightning roster. Surely, we are seeing a Rask who is still one of the most athletic goaltenders, who has regained confidence, who is tracking the puck well, and who has been one of the only reasons the Bruins have had any business winning some of the games he’s played in. His stellar start is certainly no coincidence.

The Jonas Gustavsson experiment ended in utter disaster for last year’s Bruins. In 24 appearances, Gustavsson skated to a 11-9-1 record, a .908 save percentage, and a 2.72 GAA. As the backup, his statistics should naturally be worse than the starter’s, but Gustavsson’s numbers were well below average and failed to meet any sort of expectations. Gustavsson had a less than ideal start and finish to the 2015-16 campaign, but he was able to play serviceably in the middle of the season. Gustavsson’s time in Boston will merely be remembered by how the wheels fell off the bus in the final weeks of the season and rightly so. Although Gustavsson had a 3-1-0 record through his first four appearances of last year, his play was far less than stellar. His debut against Colorado saw him earn the win with 20 saves and 2 goals allowed. Despite posting a win, Gustavsson allowed 2 of the 22 shots he faced to get by him, something that is largely unacceptable when facing a smaller amount of shots in a win. His second appearance against the Islanders, which he won, saw him allow 3 goals on 26 shots faced, another ratio that simply should not occur in a win. Contrarily, his third appearance was a solid win against the lightning in which Gustavsson recorded 21 saves and allowed one goal. On the other hand. Gustavsson returned to mediocrity with a loss to Montreal where he saved 29 of the 32 shots he faced. Gustavsson was also yanked several times during the season, most notably against the Flames when he allowed 3 goals on 11 shots during a mere 22 minutes of play. The biggest lowlight of Gustavsson’s year came in the final game of the season against an already eliminated Senators team who were playing for nothing. Tuukka Rask was sidelined with an illness and was unfit to play, so Gustavsson was called on to, at the very least, earn the Bruins a point to give them some sort of shot at making the playoffs. However, Gustavsson (and the Bruins’ defense, but that’s for a later time) coughed up one of the largest embarrassments of the year, falling to the Senators 6-1, thus ending the Bruins’ season. Although Gustavsson did not receive much help at all from that dumpster fire of a defense, he had some games in which he was very solid; however, he gave up too many softies and was ultimately the definition of mediocre, at best. As Tony Massarotti put it best, he sucked.

Anton Khudobin, who was recently placed on IR, had a shaky start to his return to Boston this season. Khudobin has backed up Rask to an 0-2-0 record with an .849 save percentage and a 4.10 GAA. In his debut against the Maple Leafs, Khudobin was unprepared and not good at all, and the Bruins paid for it, giving up three first period goals. His next start against the hated Canadiens went just as badly. Khudobin put up a strong first period, keeping the game at zero apiece. As the night went on, everything fell apart for not only Khudobin but the entire Bruins squad as well, as numerous defensive lapses and poor positioning in goal led to a 4-2 loss, which could have easily been worse. Remember, during the lockout shortened year in 2013, Khudobin was a very serviceable backup to Rask. Time will tell how his return to Causeway Street shakes out.

To put it bluntly, Malcolm Subban’s first two NHL starts were awful. Both games contained second period collapses which included some very weak goals and poor defensive play that led to him being pulled. When Subban was drafted, management and the coaching staff knew that he would be a project. He certainly showed the athleticism and skills of a future starting goaltender despite of the fact that he hadn’t spent his entire life, to that point, playing the position. Malcolm Subban is only twenty-two years old, which is considerably young for netminders to be expected to be elite at the highest level. Most goaltenders do not fully develop and come into their own until their mid-twenties so do not fret B’s fans, there’s plenty of time with this kid and there is absolutely no need to rush him to the NHL level. On a side note, the same message of patience should apply when evaluating fellow rookie Zane McIntyre who is only in his second professional season, and is normally the other goaltender in tandem with Subban in Providence but is currently the backup to Rask as Khudobin recovers from an upper-body injury.

The goaltending situation has been very hot and cold with periods of outstanding play followed by stints of middling play. In spite of those periods of bad play, the entirety of the blame should not fall onto the goaltenders’ shoulders as there have been other contributing factors to the relatively subpar play of this team over the past few seasons. The inconsistent play of the goalies has been a part of the problem, but it has not been the largest by far.

The next edition of this series will focus on whether or not Claude Julien and the coaching staff have been the largest part of Boston’s struggles.

by Pat Donnelly

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