MIDDLETON — Last season, Tuukka Rask turned had the heaviest regular-season workload of any Bruins goalie in over 50 years. His 70 games played tied the Bruins’ franchise record, making him the first to hit that mark since Eddie Johnston played all 70 of Boston’s games in the 1963-64.
That’s not a good thing.
Sure, you want one of the best goalies in the league to play as often as possible, but not literally as often as possible. The reason Rask had to play so many games was because the Bruins didn’t think they could win games unless he was playing. Had the Bruins actually made the playoffs, there’s no telling when all of that work would have taken its toll on Boston’s wiry star.
The Bruins didn’t have faith in last season’s backup, Niklas Svedberg, who departed for the KHL in the offseason. Barring a trade, they likely won’t have a sure thing behind Rask this season either. The candidates to man the No. 2 job in Boston this season are Malcolm Subban (one career NHL games), Jeremy Smith (zero career NHL games) and Zane McIntyre (zero career professional games).
“I’m sure things are going to sort out,” Rask said Monday at Shawn Thornton‘s Putts and Punches for Parkinson’s golf tournament. “There’s good young guys wanting to battle for a spot on the roster. Whatever, whoever it’s going to be I’m sure is going to be very capable of playing games. We’ll see how it plays out, but I’m sure there’s no reason to worry.”
Rask’s previous high in games played during a regular season was 58 games in his Vezina-winning 2013-14 season. After the Bruins missed the playoffs last season, he lamented the toll that playing every game (15 in a row in January, 12 in a row to end the season) took on him.
“Honestly, it felt like [I] played like 15 playoff series out there, but we battled and I battled and just tried to give us a chance to win every game,” Rask said after the final regular-season game. “The last I don’t know how many games, it felt like if I let in more than two goals, it’s going to be done. Obviously it drains you mentally, but we battled.”
Rask said Monday that while he was drained from having to handle as much work as he did, he hasn’t needed extra recovery time this summer.
“Not crazy,” he said of resting up. “Obviously it’s mentally draining when you’re battling for that playoff spot and you play a lot of games in a row and stuff like that, but you always feel kind of exhausted afterwards. Then when you do nothing for a week or two, you’re kind of like, ‘OK, let’s play hockey again.””
The lack of an established backup and some question marks elsewhere on Boston’s roster (particularly defense) could point to another busy season for Rask. He didn’t seem to like being overused as much as he was (only Braden Holtby and Jonathan Quick played more), but he’s willing to do it again this season.
“I don’t think you can put a number on it, but a lot of things depend on how tight the games are and how many games you play in a row and stuff like that,” he said. “Last year, it happened to be 70. If it’s going to be like that, it’s going to be like that again.”
Boston’s group of star players got smaller this offseason, as the team lost two in Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic. Though the team did add Matt Beleskey and make an interesting swap of Reilly Smith for Jimmy Hayes, the roster is not better now than it was last season. Bounceback seasons are expected from many Bruins, but Rask understands that the B’s are no longer viewed as the powerhouse they once were.
“I think we’ve been through so many different scenarios in past years that people put us up on a pedestal and pick us as the favorites,” Rask said. “Maybe now that’s not necessarily the case, so we know where we stand when we talk as a team and when we practice and play as a team. We just try to focus on our own thing and not try to worry about what people on the outside say. Our approach has always been that we’re doing our thing and we’ll do it as good as we can and see where it leads us.”