Tuukka Rask, closing in on 300 regular-season victories, will carry upward of 60 percent of the load in the Bruins net this season, provided he can maintain the work schedule the coaching staff roughed out for him leading up to the opening game of the season last week.
According to coach Bruce Cassidy, Rask will be limited to two starts per week, a plan that Thursday night had the 33-year-old Finnish tender in net vs. the Flyers in what was the Black-and-Gold’s first home game of the 2020-21 season.
Rask, sensational in the OT and shootout in the Bruins’ 5-4 victory over the Flyers, was beaten on four of 26 shots for the night. The Flyers fired only 47 times, compared with the 70 the Bruins flung at Carter Hart — 43 of which made it to the net.
“It obviously would depend on, as the year goes on, his health and other things, ” said Cassidy. “But that’s the original thought. He played Monday [2-1 loss vs. the Islanders]. He plays [vs. the Flyers], so Saturday will be [Jaro] Halak and we’ll revisit next week.”
It’s likely, said Cassidy, that Rask will be on the job again Tuesday night at home vs. the Penguins, followed again by Halak in a rematch Thursday with Pittsburgh. That would set the stage for Rask to be the starter Jan. 30 when the Bruins play in Washington, facing ex-captain Zdeno Chara for the first time since Big Z signed there as a free agent on the eve of the new season.
If Cassidy were to keep to Rask’s two-game-per-week limit, Halak then would get the call only once per week for roughly half the schedule. However, there are eight weeks this season, including the upcoming first two weeks of February, when the Bruins are scheduled to play four times across seven days.
The overall frantic game schedule, with all clubs squeezing in 56 games across four months, likely means Rask will start 30-32 games, with Halak set up to start 24-26.
In many cases this season, such as the Bruins see this week vs. the Flyers, clubs play back-to-back games against one another, something that rarely occurs other than in the playoffs. Provided such matchups aren’t scheduled on back-to-back nights, said Cassidy, he could go with Rask in both games.
“We may factor in more what’s the record against that particular team,” he said, “has he frustrated that team recently, etc. I think teams will definitely throw the same guy out there if he’s hot. Or [take into account] the style of play they play . . . so those things will be factored in maybe more than any other year.”
Rask, who blanked the Flyers March 10 in Philly for his 50th career shutout, started two of the Bruins’ first three games this season. He entered the matchup with the Flyers with a 1-1-0 record, .923 save percentage, and 1.46 goals-against mark.
The start against the Flyers was his 539th career appearance in the regular season, and he had 292 wins, positioning him only eight wins shy of being only the 37th tender in league history to reach the 300 plateau. Halak has 272 career wins.
Grzelcyk banged up again
Hobbled by a Scott Laughton smack into the end boards near the 14:30 mark of the second period, Matt Grzelcyk did not see any ice time during the 3-on-3 overtime. “He was playing through some discomfort,” said Cassidy. “We did not want to expose him … he wasn’t going to be able to cover the ice he would need to in overtime. He’s had a couple of tough nights now — a tough fall on Long Island and going into the boards here. Hopefully, there’s no long-term damage … and it doesn’t sound like it.”
Grzelcyk was forced to exit Monday’s game on Long Island with 5:43 gone in the third period after wrenching his left shoulder in an awkward fall in the neutral zone.
Pastrnak still mending
David Pastrnak (hip surgery) remains out of the Boston lineup and isn’t likely to make his ’21 debut for at least another three weeks.
Pastrnak, who tied for the league lead in goals (48 ) last season, did some light skating with the club Wednesday for the first time. Per Cassidy, the prolific Czech winger could join some drills next week, provided he doesn’t experience any setbacks.
Pastrnak, wearing a red [non-contact] jersey, skated for a second time on Thursday, scooting around in the traditional morning workout at TD Garden.
A hole in the net-front
The Bruins did not score an even-strength goal in any of their first three games. All of which has Cassidy emphasizing net-front presence for his forwards.
“Haven’t seen enough of that,” said Cassidy. “We’re missing some of that. Shot mentality. Playing off the shot. Force a team to defend. For the goalie to defend rebounds. Force them to find pucks. Beat them to the good ice.”
Getting to the net, be it for initial chances or to make tips or collect rebounds, is part of the “good habit” toolkit. It can take time for clubs to build that habit back into their games.
“You don’t do a lot of that in the offseason,” noted Charlie Coyle, one of the Bruins’ bigger bodies among the forwards, and one who often is asked to play net front on the power play. “Play some exhibition games, get in the flow of that — but we don’t have that [this season]. You have to get in those good habits right away. Yeah, it’s taking us some time, a little bit, but we have to bring that focus to make sure we do it. It’s dirty work, but it’s necessary work. And there’s a lot of us who have to do that, especially bigger bodies, if we can get there . . . not necessarily to tip one in off the bat, but it creates havoc.”
The lack of even-strength goals, said Coyle, was a reminder to simplify the attack.
“That’s simplifying — get a body to the net,” he said. “And you have those layers in front . . . but definitely get to the net. That’s how you score goals in this league, or any league, and we’ll go from there.”
Fast start for ex-Terrier
Ex-BU winger Joel Farabee (1-3–4) entered the night third in Flyers scoring, behind Travis Konecny and ex-BC Eagle Kevin Hayes. Farabee, 20, was the 14th pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and turned pro after spending only one season with the Terriers. Both Charlie McAvoy and Grzelcyk had moved on to the Bruins by the time Farabee arrived at BU . . . Slick Flyers backliner Shayne Gostisbehere, ex- of Union College, has yet to suit up for the Philadelphia. He was ineligible for the season opener, per the league’s COVID protocols . . . The Bruins and Broad Streeters will play each other seven more times this season, including the NBC extravaganza Feb. 21 (3 p.m.) outdoors at the edge of Lake Tahoe in Stateline, Nev. The high temperature there on Thursday, one month before faceoff, was nearly 50 degrees.