(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)
By: Ian Smith | Follow me on Twitter @IanMalcolmSmith
When Tuukka Rask was granted a leave of absence from the Boston Bruins earlier this month to deal with a personal matter, it evoked a lot of questions. Clearly, there was something majorly impacting his life, so much so that he felt the responsible thing to do was step away from the team. These players are human beings first and foremost. Hockey is just their job. They have identities off the ice where they’re somebody’s son or husband or father. His performance on the ice is completely secondary to his existence off the ice, and he deserves support for addressing whatever it is he had to address.
Before his leave of absence was granted, he had been playing uncharacteristically poorly, and it was easy to in hindsight attribute the personal matter off the ice to the struggles on the ice. Judging from how he has played since returning from the leave of absence, it’s evident that the decision to leave the team also benefitted his play. Of course, his stats were so lackluster before the leave of absence that it was hard for him to go anywhere but up when he got back. However, the simple fact remains that he has played much better between the pipes for the Bruins since returning from his leave of absence.
Before he stepped away from the team for a few days, Rask had played in eight games and registered a 3.05 Goals Against Average and a .901 save percentage. Rask has really improved since returning to the team on November 13 after stepping away for a few days to deal with that personal matter. He was back on the ice for the November 16 game against the Dallas Stars and gave up just one goal on 37 shots faced. He has started four games for the Bruins since returning from the leave of absence, and his stats are beginning to resemble that of the elite goaltender Rask has been during his career. In his last four games, Rask has a 1.75 Goals Against Average and a .944 Save Percentage.
Jaroslav Halak has been fantastic this season, really allowing the Bruins to be able to sustain the bad stretch of games that Rask had. Halak leads the NHL with a .936 Save Percentage and ranks second with a 2.06 Goals Against Average in 15 games played.
It’s always a wise idea to ride with the hot hand in the crease, whoever that might be at any given time during the season. While it was clear for the first month or so of the season that Halak gave the Bruins a better chance to win than Rask, the gap between them is rapidly closing. In Halak’s last four games, he has a 2.75 Goals Against Average and a .912 Save Percentage, and one of those games was when he gave up six goals on 25 shots against the Colorado Avalanche. If the Avalanche game gets eliminated, then Halak has a 1.67 Goals Against Average and a .950 Save Percentage in his last three games.
Both goaltending options look fantastic as of late, and it is such a luxury for a team to not have to lean so heavily on just one goaltender. Rask has really played better since returning from his leave of absence, and it’s easy to point to his improved peace of mind since returning as a factor in his improved performance. The Bruins look like they have two incredible goaltending options going forward, and it’ll be up to the coaching staff to see how their playing time is divvied these next handful of games.