Coming off a Vezina Trophy-winning performance in 2013-14, Tuukka Rask knew expectations would be high. He knew it would be difficult to play up to them, to be as good as everyone wanted him to be.
And while he has been good this season, he has not been great.
There have been soft goals he did not allow last year, while building a 36-15-6 record, a .930 save percentage, and 2.04 goals against average, and winning the award as the best goalie in the league.
There have been moments he would like back.
“OK,” Rask said, when asked to assess the first half of his season. “Not great, obviously. When you have a Vezina year, a really good year, it’s pretty tough to match that, so as I’ve said before this season, the expectations are really high for me and for sure I haven’t matched those expectations.
“But the reality is that you can’t be unbelievable every year. I’ve been playing to my level for the most part.
“Obviously a couple games have been shaky, but when you look at the numbers [they] are not as great, but when you look at the scoring chances against and the numbers with that, it’s satisfying. Obviously there’s always room to improve, but I feel good.”
At the start of the season, much of the issue was about the Bruins’ defense, the lack of structure, and the breakdowns across the team. That was certainly an issue, and helped lead to Rask’s current numbers, a 16-10-6 record with a .913 save percentage and 2.52 goals against.
But Rask has looked better lately, and will need to continue that performance as the Bruins attempt to get back to the way they play in the second half of the season.
“I’ve had points from the last [seven] starts I’ve had, and that’s obviously good,” said Rask, who is 4-0-3 in those games. “Kept the goals-against lower and given us a chance to win those games. So that’s all I want to do. I’ve been improving with the team.”
Through the Bruins’ first 42 games, Rask has played in 33, the same number he played in through the first 42 games last season. But given where the Bruins are in the standings — fighting for every point and every win — it’s conceivable Rask might end up with more than the 56 starts and 58 games played he had last season.
“I always like to challenge myself to see how many games I could play,” Rask said. “If it would be close to 80 or whatever. But it’s been good this year, I think.”
Rask said he hasn’t been overburdened, though he understands he could see more time because of the position the team is in.
As he said, “If that means I need to play more, that’s totally fine by me. But from a goaltending standpoint, I think we have two good goalies who can both play if needed. It’s not like I have to be in there every day because we don’t have another goalie.”
“It definitely is,” coach Claude Julien said, about whether determining the goaltender rotation has been more difficult this season. “When you have to win games, you sometimes have to utilize your No. 1 more than ever.
“It doesn’t mean that he’s going to be tired. It doesn’t mean anything else more than when you’re going well, you can afford to give him more rest and sometimes back-to-backs it’s a simple decision to just split them.”
Julien said Rask had been a bit tired after playing both ends of a back-to-back last weekend, which led to Niklas Svedberg getting the start on Thursday in the second half of the back-to-back games with the Penguins and the Devils .
“It’s important for [Svedberg] to step up, and he did,” Julien said. “He stepped up and did the job, but for me it is [difficult], and that’s why I keep saying every year I don’t make a picture at the beginning of the year, who’s going to make which game — because anything can happen. It could be injuries, it could be situations like we’re in.”
Loui Eriksson took part in Friday’s practice at TD Garden, but it’s still unknown if the right wing will play Saturday against the Flyers in Philadelphia.
Julien said Eriksson is “better,” but would not commit to a decision on Eriksson until Saturday. Eriksson was the victim of an uncalled slash to the hand by Robert Bortuzzo in the second period on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, and he did not play Thursday against the Devils.
It was the first game he had missed this season.
“Obviously better than yesterday, still questionable for tomorrow,” Julien said. “He still has some swelling there, so we’ll see how he progresses tomorrow and make a decision, game time.”
Julien embraces bid
With the news Boston has garnered the USOC’s bid for the 2024 Olympics, Julien, who coached Team Canada in the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, said, “That’s exciting. I know it’s the Summer Olympics, so I don’t have a chance unless I get in shape. Shot put?” He added, “I love this city. It’s a great sports city. Every sport that’s here is well supported and the fans are great. I think to have the Olympics here, people would realize how great this city is when it comes to sports and how they embrace it. I’m wishing the city good luck. I’d love to see them have it. I know it’s in 10 years from now — chances are I may have to travel into town. But nonetheless I’ll always love this city, so I think it’d be a nice thing.” . . . The All-Star teams will be announced on Saturday.