Tuukka Rask was probably not at his best during the 2015-16 season for the Boston Bruins.
He didn’t necessarily have a bad season, but it just seemed like a bit of a down year for him when compared to the standard he has set for himself during his four-year run as the team’s full-time starter that has included a Stanley Cup Final appearance and a Vezina Trophy.
He was OK, but not great. Not what the Bruins have seen from him in recent years when he was consistently one of the three or four best goalies in the entire NHL.
When you combined his league average save percentage with the lackluster defense in front of him, it helped lead to a second straight year with no playoffs in Boston.
Given the current state of that defense, which is mostly unchanged from a year ago, if the Bruins are going to end their current playoff drought they are going to need Rask to go back to being one of the best at his position. Given his track record, it was probably only a matter of time until he returned to that level.
Through the first month of the 2016-17 season, Rask has done exactly that and is probably been the team’s MVP through the first month of the season.
Boston perfect a 6-0 when Rask is in the lineup, while his .951 save percentage is currently third best in the league entering play on Saturday, behind only Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (in only three starts) and Montreal’s Carey Price.
When you compare the Bruins’ performance in the games he has played (all of their wins) to their performance in the games he has missed (0-4 while the three goalies that have started in his place have had a sub-.890 save percentage) and it’s easy to see how he his play has been driving the team this season, especially as the offense has not quite started to click the way it did a year ago (when the Bruins were one of the highest scoring teams in the league) with only 24 goals in their first 10 games.
They have already won three games this season where they have scored two goals or less.
They only won six games under similar circumstances all of last season. So it’s not just the fact that he has won a lot of games for them so far, he has probably stolen a couple as well.
The Bruins are still a flawed team on the blue line, and they probably are not going to score at the same pace they did a year ago. That means goaltending is probably going to be the ultimate X-factor in whether or not the Bruins get back to the playoffs or extend their postseason drought to three years. So far this season Rask looks like he is back to being one of the elites at the position and is perhaps the single biggest reason the team has avoided what could have been an ugly start in the standings.