By: Andrew Taverna | Follow me on Twitter: @andrewtaverna
With the return from the All-Star break, all eyes were on Warrior Ice Arena today. Just before the break, Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask was listed as day-to-day with a minor lower-body injury, and fan-favorite Jeremy Swayman was recalled from Providence. Swayman didn’t get a start before the break, but he came in a game to relieve Linus Ullmark in what can only be called a “rough outing.”
With Rask going day-to-day, many Bruins fans thought the same thing we all did; what a fantastic time for a break! The Bruins looked like a team that needed one. Presumably, this would give Rask a bit of time to heal whatever his ailment was. That was before Bruce Cassidy’s comments on Rask right before the All-Star Break, where he said he believed the injury was due to “lingering effects” from his off-season surgery.
Rask had only been back with the team for four starts before going out with his injury, and frankly, the last start against Anaheim had Bruins fans worried already. Rask gave up five goals in that game on only 27 shots and looked a bit uncomfortable. Even Cassidy admitted that Rask was “not where he needs to be” and that the team was under the assumption he’d need a total of seven to eight starts to look like the Tuukka Rask we are all used to seeing in nets.
So, where does that leave us? With Rask now essentially starting over and the season ticking away, it’s fair for fans to start asking, ‘what’s the plan?’ and turning towards alternative options. The challenge with that is you’ve signed Rask now. You have three goaltenders who are options, and both will see playing time this week because Cassidy has confirmed we’re not out of the woods yet. Rask will miss the remainder of this week, and his status remains questionable.
Your first option and probably the preferable outcome is that Rask takes the rest of this week and feels better. He comes back with a few games under his belt and only needs three or four more to look right. This scenario would set him up to be back in peak form right around late February / early March as you look to make that final playoff push. Swayman remains in Providence, and Ullmark takes the bulk of your action to keep Rask healthy. Whoever ends up the hottest come playoffs takes the crease.
You continue to ride Ullmark’s hot hand and hope Rask can play a few games before the playoffs to get back into game conditioning. This scenario means that Tuukka is playing a far more traditional backup role. This option is probably my least favorite for two reasons. Rask isn’t a backup goaltender, and I think rhythm is essential for a goalie like Rask. Two, Rask needs reps. He hasn’t played even close to an NHL schedule in over a full calendar year, and he needs this time to find his game.
My most negative take, and the one that many of the Bruins fans who drive me nuts would give you, is that Rask doesn’t play. Rask not playing is an option. He signed for an incredibly team-friendly deal, and in theory, you have an NHL-caliber tandem in Ullmark/Swayman. That said, the reality is this team is far more equipped for a playoff run with Rask in the nets. Swayman, as much as you all know I love him, needs more time to develop his game. This year, he was 8-6-2 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.31 goals-against average in his time with the big club. Swayman will get the start tomorrow night against the Penguins, and we’ll see how he looks, but ultimately taking the rookie to the playoffs when you have one of the best goaltenders in the league sitting in the press box is less than ideal.
None of us want to be having this conversation. The best-case scenario is Rask is back and healthy after this week. He returns to peak form and gets hot right as you enter the playoffs. This option is, in all likelihood, the only way this team is poised for a deep run. At the end of the day, it appears we’ll be waiting to learn more about his status before we make any other judgments. It’s fair to be worried.