Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

Bruce Cassidy explains benching Tuukka Rask

Ty Anderson
November 22, 2017 - 3:08 pm

Salaries be damned, the Bruins are riding the hot hand in the crease, which means that Anton Khudobin will make his third straight start when the B’s visit the Devils tonight.

“He’s played well, [he] deserves to start games,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said this morning. “Whether they’re all consecutively or not that’s the decision we’re making -- and we’ll see how it goes and we’ll worry about the next game on Friday -- but right now, guys are playing well in front of him, and he looks confident and composed.”

That’s obviously not what the B’s $7 million man in net, Tuukka Rask, who will be a backup for the third straight game (something he’s obviously yet to experience since taking over as the club’s uncontested No. 1 back in 2013), wanted to hear.

“I’ve talked to Tuukka about it. He’s not happy, but he gets it,” Cassidy, no stranger to demanding more from his players, said. “We’re creating competition while getting good goaltending out of Anton. Hopefully it makes Tuukka a better goaltender down the road. Makes our team better, certainly, when your backup’s giving you those quality starts.”

But with quality being the name of the game, Cassidy’s decision is entirely too easy.

Khudobin stopped 36-of-37 shots in his last start, a 3-1 victory over the Sharks, and really powered the Bruins to an improbable successful California swing, with just two goals surrendered on 63 shots faced in two wins last week. The 31-year-old has earned at least one point in all of his starts this season (a 5-0-2 record), too, and his .935 save percentage ranks as the league’s best. And his .943 even-strength save percentage is the best among all NHL goaltenders with at least eight appearances. Rask, meanwhile has an .897 save percentage (51st among all goalies) and an .894 even-strength save percentage through 12 appearances. Both of those sub-.900s rank near the bottom of the league.

But Rask’s woes go beyond the heinous numbers.

For Cassidy, it’s been about Rask’s inability to provide the lift and key stops that a goaltender of the 30-year-old Rask’s caliber and salary should deliver when a team is slumping or ailing (like the incredibly, ridiculously injured B’s have been since the jump).

“We’ve said it, and I’m not going to hide behind it— A lot of what’s happened with Tuukka’s starts is that we need one more save or we need to score one more goal,” Cassidy said. “It’s one or the other. And if we’re not going to score, then hopefully [we] get that one more save. That’s been a little bit of the difference with Anton.

“The other night [in San Jose], it’s a 2-1 game, he keeps it out of the net, and we do get the third goal, so we get both in that particular instance. But sometimes that’s what you need, and that’s what’s been missing a little bit in Tuukka’s game.”

Rask’s last start, a 4-2 loss to the Ducks that saw No. 40 allow two goals on three shots in a period that the Bruins thoroughly dominated, was a perfect example of that.

But it’s not the only game where Cassidy believes his goaltender has let him down.

“Not just Anaheim. There’s been other games,” Cassidy acknowledged. “Even [in] that Toronto game… even though he does make a breakaway save I think on [William] Nylander first before [Mitch] Marner, maybe one on that other one gives us time to get our legs under us. But whatever the case, it hasn’t happened as much as we’d like.

“Part of that’s on the group in front of him. Part of that’s on him to recognize those situations, which I’m sure he does, and just come through there.”

When Rask gets that next chance to come through, however, is no longer up to him.

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