The workload was heavy at the first of the season for Tuukka Rask, with the newly extended goaltender getting more than the lion’s share of starts in net. He certainly was earning the $7 million annual salary from his new contract.
But of late, coach Claude Julien has been more cautious about using his starter, going with Chad Johnson in net in four of the Bruins’ last eight games, plus a relief appearance on Thursday against Montreal.
And fortunately for the Bruins, Johnson has been performing exactly the way they want, earning wins in each of those starts, including his first shutout of the season in a 4-0 win over the Oilers on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden. It was the second shutout of his career.
“It means a lot,” Johnson said. “For me it’s always just about the wins, but I think when you can add a shutout there it’s just like a bonus point for myself.”
The added time for Johnson has been by design, but that has been helped by how effective he’s been. He has a .940 save percentage in those four starts, plus a 4-0 record. (He allowed one goal on 15 shots against the Canadiens.)
“His record speaks for himself,” Julien said. “He’s been playing well. It’s been great. It allows me to go about what I expect as far as playing time for a goaltender. So you certainly haven’t been forced to overutilize a goaltender, and that way makes it real comfortable.”
That becomes even more crucial over the next month, as Rask heads to the Sochi Olympics with Team Finland, then returns to a March schedule that features 17 games in 31 days.
“In those heavy schedules you need both of them,” Julien said. “You’ve got to show that you have confidence in them too because they feel it, they’ll feel whether the team or the coaches have confidence in their goaltenders.
“My goal is to give [Rask] some rest before going to the Olympics because he’s got a big job to do there, and I don’t want to be responsible for burning him out. Because we do have a good backup goaltender that can come in and they’ve been able to share the net. And when he comes back you hope to be able to do the same thing and give him the opportunity to get some rest by utilizing both goaltenders again.”
Of the Bruins’ first 46 games — through their meeting with the Maple Leafs in Boston — Rask had played in 37 . Of the next eight, Rask has played in just four. As Julien said, “He’s played a lot in the first half and we sense it.”
That has opened up the minutes for Johnson, and he has proven to be more than capable.
“It’s been nice,” Johnson said of his increased workload. “I want to get in as many games as I can. I know my role, and it’s not to be in every night, but it’s to be in when called upon, so it’s nice to be able to get in more games and get in there and get more comfortable.”
Johnson wasn’t exactly tested early against Edmonton, with the Oilers mustering just two shots in the first period. The first one, though, was a breakaway — not a way to ease into the game. Johnson faced 10 shots in each of the final two periods, culminating in his 22-save performance. (Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens, meanwhile, faced 41.)
As Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said of his team’s lack of shots, “That’s a team that I think every team in the league aspires to be defensively. They don’t give up much.”
Still, the game remained tight through the first two periods with the Bruins scoring just once before breaking out in the third. They scored their first on a power-play goal by David Krejci at 2:06 of the second, ending Scrivens’s shutout streak at 126:41, with 102 straight saves in that span.
They thought they had added to that with a score at 8:32 of the second when Matt Bartkowski made a nice move down the left side and passed to Loui Eriksson in front of the net. But the goal went under review and was ruled to have gone in with a distinct kicking motion.
“I was just trying to hold my skate there and it just hit,’’ said Eriksson. “I thought it was a goal, but it happens.”
Fortunately for the Bruins, they were able to capitalize in the third, first on a goal by Dougie Hamilton at 6:43, his second straight game with a score. Hamilton was able to get his own rebound and take a wraparound shot that went in off Scrivens.
“It’s a little bit nerve-racking because you feel like you probably deserve a little bit better than that at that point,” Julien said of the 1-0 lead. “But it was important that we went out there and got that next one. And I thought that goal by Dougie kind of made everybody relax a little bit more, and our game seemed to get better after that too.”
The Bruins followed up with two more goals in the period — at 13:05 from Carl Soderberg and at 15:42 from Torey Krug on the power play.
It was a nice way for the team to bounce back after a difficult loss to Montreal on Thursday, a game in which the Bruins appeared to be disengaged and slow. They were able to add two more points to their total, and now have 13 of a possible 16 points in their last eight games.
“It was a much better game,” Julien said. “In all aspects of it, in all areas we were good. So overall, it’s what you’re looking for as a coach.”