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How Responsible Is Tuukka Rask For Bruins' Woes? Let's Take A Look

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- The Bruins blew a two-goal lead in the third period on Wednesday night to drop to 2-3-1 on the young season, and naturally, many fingers pointed directly at Tuukka Rask to take the blame.

The home crowd in Boston saluted Rask with some Bronx cheers throughout the night, and it wasn't the first time this season. Immediately after the game, analyst Mike Milbury said Rask was "lazy" and "cavalier."

Such is the life of a goaltender in the NHL.

Much like in football, when things go well, the quarterback gets a disproportionate share of the credit; when things go poorly, he gets slammed. In hockey, fans see the puck go in the net, then they see the broadcast camera hone in on the frustrated goaltender, and it builds a certain level of anger in anyone watching who happens to be invested in that team. It's just part of the job.

And make no mistake: Tuukka Rask has not been excellent this season. You could make the argument that he hasn't even been an above-average netminder. Statistically speaking, he ranks 27th out of 28 goalies with a 4.40 goals-against average (among goalies with at least four games played), and he ranks 27th out of 28 with an .854 save percentage. Those numbers are well off his career 2.21 GAA and .925 save percentage.

If the Bruins are going to be a playoff team this year, they're going to need Rask to at least be a borderline Vezina candidate. That's what they pay him $7 million to be.

But at the same time, pinning all the blame of this subpar start to the season would be truly foolish. Captain Zdeno Chara does not look 100 percent, and he lacks a true No. 2 or even a No. 3 defenseman to work on the blue line with him. Offensively, the Bruins have been impressive, but some questionable puck management by Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak (among others) has led to a number of scoring opportunities for opponents. And the team's inability to properly execute a simple line change has been baffling, to say the least. Dump the puck in deep, get off the ice; it's not complicated.

Clearly, there's plenty of blame to go around. But for the sake of the Bronx cheerers and the loud analysts (whose opinions about goaltenders carry little to no weight), let's take a look at every single one of the 22 goals Rask has allowed this season. I'll apply a grade to each goal, with the scale looking like this:

5 - An AHL Goalie Would Have Saved It
4 - A Bad NHL Goalie Would Have Saved It
3 - Craig Anderson Would Have Saved It
2 - A Top 10/Borderline All-Star Would Have Saved It
1 - A Vezina-Caliber Goalie Would Have Saved It
0 - Nobody Would Have Saved It

(Craig Anderson, in this instance, is Mr. Average NHL Goaltender.)

Obviously, there is plenty of subjectivity in applying a grade. But the judgments will be made in a vacuum, leaving out the circumstances in the game and without any emotion attached. The higher the grade, the worse for Tuukka. I'll average it all out at the end. The results should be interesting.

1. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg, Oct. 8
Grade:
1 out of 5

Mark Scheifele 1-1 Goal vs Bruins | Oct 8 2015 by Winnipeg Jets HD on YouTube

Notes: A sloppy pass from Joe Morrow leads to a neutral-zone turnover and a 3-on-2 Winnipeg rush. Rask was screened on the shot, which was picture-perfect. Honestly, a 1 out of 5 rating might be harsh on this one.

2. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg, Oct. 8
Grade:
0 out of 5

Blake Wheeler 2-1 Goal vs Bruins | Oct 8 2015 by Winnipeg Jets HD on YouTube

Notes: Terrible turnover behind the net by Matt Irwin, who has since cleared waivers and has a minus-4 rating in three games with AHL Providence. If you want your goalie to save that one, then there is no pleasing you.

3. Drew Stafford, Winnipeg, Oct. 8
Grade:
1 out of 5

Drew Stafford 3-1 Goal vs Bruins | Oct 8 2015 by Winnipeg Jets HD on YouTube

Notes: Again, 1 out of 5 might actually be harsh, but I suppose diving stick saves are possible on occasion? Again, Matt Irwin was at fault here, as he got caught staring at the clouds instead of protecting the front of the net.

4. Chris Thorburn, Winnipeg, Oct. 8
Grade:
2 out of 5

Chris Thorburn 4-2 Goal vs Bruins | Oct 8 2015 by Winnipeg Jets HD on YouTube

Notes: David Krejci should never, ever lose a footrace with Chris Thorburn. Krejci worsened the issue by accidentally deflecting the puck past Rask. Still, Rask catches some blame because likewise, Tuukka Rask should never, ever get beaten by Chris Thorburn.

5. Nicolas Petan, Winnipeg, Oct. 8
Grade:
0 out of 5

Nic Petan First NHL Goal vs Boston (10/8/15) by SomeHockeyVideos on YouTube

Notes: Torey Krug kicked it in.

6. David Desharnais, Montreal, Oct. 10
Grade:
2 out of 5

David Desharnais Puts Canadiens Up 1-0 Vs. Bruins by amicacoveragecam on YouTube

Notes: Montreal was on the power play and had numbers in front of the net. Nobody cleared out David Desharnais, who is just 5-foot-7 and 174 pounds, and he was able to whack away at rebounds until finally scoring.

7. Lars Eller, Montreal, Oct. 10
Grade:
3 out of 5

Notes: Lazy pass by David Pastrnak, and Montreal capitalized during a Boston line change. Still, the shot went between Rask's body and blocker. He had a chance, and it would hardly register as a "spectacular" save.

8. Lars Eller, Montreal, Oct. 10
Grade:
4 out of 5

Notes: A butterfly goalie has to save that one. Just keep the stick down, and there's no problem.

9. Brian Boyle, Tampa Bay, Oct. 12
Grade:
1 out of 5

Notes: Typically, you want to not allow someone to have that much time and space to operate directly in front of the net. Terrible defensive effort here:

Brian Boyle
(Screen shot from NHL.com)

10. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay, Oct. 12
Grade: 
3 out of 5

Notes: Kind of an uninspiring effort from Rask. But it was on the power play, so he's spared from a 4 grade. Barely.

11. Brian Boyle, Tampa Bay, Oct. 12
Grade:
4 out of 5

Boyle steals and scores breakaway goal on Rask by NHL on YouTube

Notes: Sorry, I know it's a breakaway, but it's also a Brian Boyle breakaway. Rask is a Vezina winner. He needs to turn away Brian Boyle. (This play won't end up on David Pastrnak's career highlight reel. Woof.)

12. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay, Oct. 12
Grade:
0 out of 5

Stamkos blasts one-timer for 500th point by NHL on YouTube

Notes: A Stamkos one-timer from the dot on the power play. That's a goal right there. Bruins might want to consider putting a man on him next time.

13. Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay, Oct. 12
Grade:
5 out of 5

Notes: Yes, it was deflected, but that's a shot that can never go in. It's goals like that one that lead to people fairly questioning Rask's engagement level.

14. Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay, Oct. 12
Grade:
2 out of 5

Notes: It was kicked in. Maybe he could have had it? But probably not.

15. Shane Doan, Arizona, Oct. 17
Grade:
0 out of 5

Notes: Rask was clearly interfered with by Joe Vitale, and he then had to scramble for the puck. He did all that a goaltender reasonably could do in that situation. Blaming Rask would be ignorant.

16. Tobias Rieder, Arizona, Oct. 17
Grade: 2 out of 5

Notes: We can fault him for the rebound, I guess, but the Bruins are at fault for allowing Rieder to not only walk straight to the goalmouth and get a shot on net but to nonchalantly pick up his own rebound and score.

17. Kyle Chipchura, Arizona, Oct. 17
Grade:
1 out of 5

Notes: It's hard to tell if the initial shot from the point ever got through the mass of bodies in front. If it did, then Rask let up a rebound. If it didn't, it was just a loose puck sitting among eight skates. Whatever the case may have been, the puck squirted free, and Rask made a desperation attempt, but it's hard to say anyone "should" have saved that one.

18. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Philadelphia, Oct. 21
Grade: 5 out of 5

Notes: We can get tough here. The puck floated in front of Rask. He swiped at it with his glove. He missed. Mental mistake.

19. Sam Gagner, Philadelphia, Oct. 21
Grade:
1 out of 5

Notes: Bad line change leads to quick transition for Philly. Kevan Miller gave Gagner much too much space to operate. It's unclear if the shot deflected off Miller's stick or not, but either way, the resulting shot was a snipe.

20. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia, Oct. 21
Grade:
0 out of 5

Notes: Kevan Miller backhanding a pass off his own skate and giving the puck to Philly with a vacated net just about sums up the state of the Bruins' defensive corps at the moment.

21. Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia, Oct. 21
Grade:
1 out of 5

Notes: Pure snipe. And it came after Pastrnak failed to get the puck deep into the Philly end, thereby leading to Philly exploiting the Bruins on a line change. This goal began about 150 feet from Rask. And it ended with a snipe.

22. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia, Oct. 21
Grade:
0 out of 5

Giroux drills OT winner past Rask for a PPG by NHL on YouTube

Notes: This was just a thing of beauty by a gifted goal scorer. And it came on a 4-on-3 power play. You can only save that one by accident.

Final Tally

Goals Allowed: 22
Grade: 38/110
Average: 1.73/5

In this non-scientific experiment, Rask ends up grading out to roughly being a top-10 goalie. He is, at the least, better than Craig Anderson, but not really the Vezina-type of goalie that he has been in the past.

That's sure to ruffle some feathers from fans who are simply unsatisfied with the play in net, but rewatching all 22 of those goals, it becomes clear that shoddy puck management, careless line changes and suspect protection of the goalmouth has led to a good number of them finding their way past Rask.

Now, the counter-argument is that with Rask being the third-highest paid goaltender, he should be stopping at least a few more of these. And that's true. He should. And history has shown us that eventually, he will.

In the meanwhile, Rask should remain low on the list of concerns for the mediocre Bruins.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here. You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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