Will the addition of Jaroslav Halak reduce Tuukka Rask's workload?
Since the start of the 2012-13 season, no goalie has played more games than Tuukka Rask's 347. Washington's Braden Holtby sits behind Rask with 340. At 31 years-old, the Bruins want to reduce the workload of Rask, their new backup goalie may help them do that.
After losing Rask's backup the last two seasons in Anton Khudobin to the Dallas Stars, the Bruins turned to 12-year veteran Jaroslav Halak.
Rask appeared in 54 games last season, a lower total than the 70, 64 and 65 he saw the previous three seasons. Halak too appeared in 54 games.
"We backed off Tuukka's games last year; it worked out very well. Anton was a great complement, but again, you come out at the start of the season and your number one goaltender is not there, you better be darn sure your backup is," general manager Don Sweeney said following the signing of Halak.
After returning to the playoffs for the second consecutive year last season, the Bruins hope for a longer playoff run in 2018-19, but a fresh, rested Rask will be important in accomplishing that goal.
Among goalies who have played in 200 games or more since 2012-13, Rask's .921 save percentage only trails Sergei Bobrovsky and Corey Crawford's .922 while his 2.27 goals-against average only trails the Kings' Jonathan Quick who has a 2.26 goals-against.
As well as Khudobin did in his role, it sounds like the Bruins are more comfortable with Halak taking games away from Rask than they were with Khudobin.
"But I think, where we sit now, with Jaro’s [Halak] carried the ball with another team – he’s had months where he’s played 10 games," added Sweeney. "He’s had usually about 26, at least, starts. That fits in to what we’re trying to expect from what the goaltender tandem needs to happen going forward. We’re a group, and maybe it pushes Tuukka even further."
Sure, Halak's stats from last season with the Islanders are nothing pretty, but part of that can be blamed on a defensively weak Islanders team. With a much better d-core in front of him, as well as some very talented two-way forwards, and a better penalty kill, Sweeney expects a bounce back season from Halak.
"Even Jaro’s save percentage taking a drop, most of it can be pinned on a penalty killing situation, where his numbers, as well as the team, dropped. We’re third in the league in penalty killing, and hopefully it doesn’t drop off. Those are certain areas – his action has always been above what’s expected for the most part," said Sweeney.
Earlier in the offseason, Sweeney made it clear that finding a backup with a significant amount of NHL experience was important for many reasons. They're getting that with Halak who has played in 449 NHL games, the exact amount Rask has.
No one expects the 33-year old Halak to come in and steal Rask's job, but he certainly can come in and steal some starts from the Bruins number one. A little competition is never a bad thing.
"You know, we’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka was back to backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time. I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it," said Sweeney.
"Again, I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now, going in every night, that that’s an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s the performance now."
Despite all the heat Rask takes in Boston, he's one of the league's best and his numbers show that. But there is no denying that keeping Rask's games played around the 50 mark like they did a season ago will benefit the Bruins.
Coming into a situation where Rask is the clear established number one, Halak is ready to help the team whenever his name is called upon.
I’ll try to help out any way I can. I’ll try to fit in as soon as possible. We’ll see what happens," said Halak. "I’m 33, I know Tuukka is a little younger than me. I’m just looking forward to be with him. I know he’s an elite goalie and he proved that every year. Every time I get the chance, I’ll try to help out and we’ll see what happens."
This coming season the Bruins have seven sets of back-to-backs and eight sets of three games in four nights. Halak will be called upon often and the Bruins hope he at least matches the success Khudobin had in the role last year.