(Photo Credit: Associated Press / The New York Times)

By: Andrew Taverna | Follow me on Twitter: @andrewtaverna

It’s not uncommon for Boston Bruins fans to give Tuukka Rask a hard time. Arguably one of the NHL’s best goalies, Rask has put up an impressive career to date, but this might be quite possibly the best start of his career. From the eye test to the statistics, we’ll dig into why this might be his best start to date, but first, let’s take a look at his career and why he is elite regardless of this year.

A High Caliber Career

Drafted 25th overall in the 2005 draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tuukka Rask was traded to Boston on June 24th, 2006, in a deal that sent Andrew Raycroft the other way. Rask didn’t play a full season in the NHL until the 2011-12 season after the infamous Tim Thomas departed. Since then, Rask has put up some impressive career numbers leading him to be statistically one of the best goalies ever to play the game. According to Hockey-Reference.com, Rask is first in both goals against and save percentage of all active NHL goalies. Even more impressive than that, Rask has the third-best save percentage all-time coming in only behind legends Dominik Hasek and Johnny Bower. In addition to his tremendous career stats, Rask also is the proud owner of a Vezina Trophy and a William M. Jennings Trophy. There isn’t much of an argument to be made against considering Tuukka Rask, an elite goaltender in the NHL.

The Statistics

Looking at the numbers this year, you might try and argue that Rask is not off to the best start of his career. It’s a fair argument to say that seven games into his season, Rask doesn’t have the best numbers to start. Comparing this start to others, Rask has a sub-par .898 save percentage, which is significantly lower than his career average and a 2.36 GAA average. These statistics might seem alarming to my point that Rask is off to the best start of his career, but ultimately, Rask still has a record of 5-1-1 to start the season. 

Diving a bit deeper into the statistics, the biggest glaring issue for Rask with his stats is the two games that hockey-reference.com refers to as RBS or real bad starts. These two games are what is causing Rask’s season numbers to look so bad, and given the relative sample size, two more games in the opposite direction could make his numbers look how they should, stellar. 

The Eye Test

Statistics are a crucial part of modern hockey. There is no doubt that analytics and statistics have provided tremendous value to hockey as a sport, but sometimes, the most reliable test is the eye-test. Watching Rask in these first seven games, he appears to be in mid-season form. 

There are three major components to Rask’s game that are looking particularly good to start the year. The first is his composure. Rask has looked exceptionally calm in these first seven games. He is attacking the puck and keeping a low center of gravity. His rebounding seems to be in control, but Rask is not panicking and is adjusting his position to make the save when it’s not. Interestingly, the time he looks most composed this season is on the several odd-man rushes he has seen. 

The second factor to Rask’s game that makes this his most impressive start is his ability to limit his movements. Many Bruins fans compare Tuukka Rask to Tim Thomas. This comparison is not very valuable as they played incredibly different styles of hockey. When you look at Tuukka Rask, one of his most significant assets is his ability to be in the right position at the right time. Positional saves might not seem as exciting as a highlight reel save, but they are just as valuable, and chances are, you’ll make more of them. 

Those two eye-test items contribute to the “Rask is having the best start of his career” feeling but maybe most significantly is Rask’s ability to track the puck right now. Tuukka Rask is possibly more locked in than we’ve ever seen him. 

When your goaltender is locked in and tracking the puck well, the whole team gets a boost of confidence. It allows your defensemen to be more comfortable pinching up the walls. It will enable your forwards to be more aggressive on the penalty-kill. Most importantly, it allows a team down late in the third the confidence to go out and make risky plays in hopes of tieing or winning a game. 

It’s True; This Is His Most Impressive Start

Many factors play into a goalie’s overall performance. His confidence on a given day, the sun is shining a bit brighter, they had that perfect cup of coffee for breakfast. Tuukka has faced a lot of backlash during his time in Boston. Some of it deserved, other times, wholly ridiculous, but for whatever reason, Rask appears to be in prime shape this season. With Rask coming up for a contract renewal and still chasing his dream of winning the Stanley Cup as a starter in Boston, Tuukka Rask has come to play this year.