Tuukka Rask's struggles are undermining Boston’s newfound offense; Could the floundering Flames really trade for Steven Stamkos?
Nine seasons into his tenure in Boston, coach Claude Julien continues to surprise.
Charged over the summer by team president Cam Neely and GM Don Sweeney with getting the Bruins to play a more offensive-minded game, he’s delivered in a way no one expected. Through the first two weeks of the season, the B’s are the league's second-highest scoring team (3.67 goals per game), better than a goal ahead of last season when they ranked 22nd at 2.55 per.
Credit that improvement to the success of their power play. A punchline for the past several years, it has already bagged a league-high eight goals in just six games and tops the charts at an astounding 38.1% success rate. The key has been the decision to overload the talent on the first unit, creating a group that now features David Krejci, the NHL’s leading scorer, on the point with Torey Krug, and Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson and Ryan Spooner up front.
“Krejci has been so good back there controlling the puck, but also shooting ... and that’s been a big difference,” Julien said. “We’re pleased with that [power play unit] and we continue to work with the [second unit] that’s got a lot of new faces on it. Hopefully our power play continues to be a weapon for us.”
It will have to be considering how much trouble the Bruins are having in their own zone. While the young and injury-depleted defense is going through some expected growing pains, it’s clear that Tuukka Rask (.854 save percentage and 4.40 GAA) isn’t playing up to expectations.
“Yeah, you know I’ve let in some bad goals,” Rask said. “I always look at the goals, if I could have done something differently. Maybe 90% of the time I maybe wouldn’t have. So I wouldn’t call it a struggle. But then again you let in five, four goals every game, can’t be pretty happy about that.”
Part of the problem is that shooters are being gifted by the young D with time and space they never would have seen in the past. Good players are going to take advantage of that—see Claude Giroux’s two-goal performance in a 5-4 OT win for the Flyers on Wednesday night.
But Rask is struggling with his technique as well. You could see his angle was off on Wayne Simmonds’ third-period equalizer and he’s leaning forward too much in his butterfly, exposing space just under the bar for shooters to pick off.
Again, that’s not all on him. When a goalie loses faith in his defense, his attempts to compensate can wreak havoc on his technique (see Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus now or Semyon Varlamov in Colorado last season). But it’s on him to bear down and start delivering those stops. Once he does, his team might actually benefit from all that newfound firepower.
• Sportsnet’s Mark Spector poked a hornet’s nest on Wednesday when he suggested that the struggling Calgary Flames might be willing to deal some of their prime young talent to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for pending UFA Steven Stamkos.
“We have no doubt that [Flames GM Brad] Treliving is asking about Stamkos—why wouldn’t he?—and he’s not the only GM interested,’ Spector wrote. “If everything was perfect in Tampa, Stamkos would be signed by now, and the fact he isn’t makes us wonder if Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is resigned to losing him, and as such, will try to trade the asset. This early in the proceedings (a full five months prior to the NHL trading deadline) the conversation from Tampa’s end would start with center Sean Monahan, who we believe to be the most untradeable Flame.”
First off, it’s obvious that Treliving is unhappy with the status quo (he made that clear by waiving starting goalie Karri Ramo on Wednesday) and as he proved with the Dougie Hamilton trade over the summer, he’s not afraid to go big to acquire the right player. And Stamkos, one of the game’s top-three snipers, fits anybody’s definition of “right player.” So it makes perfect sense that he’d inquire about his availability given the uncertainty surrounding his contract status and a desire to breathe life into Calgary’s moribund offense.
That said, Monahan probably is an ender. Whether anyone should be off the table when talking about Stamkos is debatable, but the Flames love the kid. And with Monahan coming off a 31-goal season at age 20, it’s easy to see why. Sam Bennett might get the conversation moving, though. The 19-year-old is seen as a Doug Gilmour starter kit and is highly regarded around the league.
But would the Lightning, a team viewed as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, really move a superstar for a handful of magic beans? And is there any reason for the Flames to make that kind of splash now when they’re still fairly early in their rebuilding process? And could they even take care of Stamkos’s next contract (expected to top $10 million per year) when they have Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler to re-sign this summer?
Given what we’ve seen so far from Treliving, it’s tough to write this off entirely, but the smart money is on a smaller move to shake up their offense in the short term.
• I spoke to a scout this morning who gushed about Jack Eichel after watching Wednesday’s game between the Sabres and Maple Leafs. “Eichel ... geez. Even when he fails he’s spectacular.” The second pick in the 2015 draft couldn’t beat Jonathan Bernier, although he had his chances. One in particular, a one-man rush off a face-off win at center ice, highlighted his determination. “What a great individual effort,” the scout said. “How many veterans try that? Just shows how hungry he is to score.”
Eichel was stymied again in the shootout, but his decision to drive into the zone on the backhand was an eye-catcher. “You just don’t see that ... but he surprises you. He always has another wrinkle every time you see him.”
• One symptom of the Kings’ early struggles has been the amount of time they’ve spent in the box. They’ve been shorthanded 26 times already this season, third-most in the league. Beat writer Rich Hammond noted that of those, nine were offensive-zone calls. That tells you the Kings aren’t moving their feet and are getting outworked along the walls. Hardly sounds like a Darryl Sutter-coached team, does it?
The numbers game
• After a slow start, Oilers rookie Connor McDavid is now 4-2-6 through his first seven games, including 3-2-5 in his last three.
• The Hurricanes’ win in Colorado on Wednesday night was their first since Feb. 9, 1996. They’d lost 10 straight (0-9-1) there and are now 2-9-3 all-time. Their only other win in Denver came during the franchise’s very first visit, when the Whalers beat the Avalanche 3–2 thanks to Adam Burt’s overtime goal.
• The Sabres are now 16-1-1 in their last 18 home games against the Maple Leafs dating back to Feb. 4, 2009, including six straight wins
• Sarah McLellan talks about mixing speed and patience with analytics and the perils of fast starts in her Arizona Coyotes reader chat.
• Jesse Puljujarvi, a 2016 NHL draft prospect, is drawing comparisons to another Finnish legend who made his name scoring goals.