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Murphy: Can The Boston Bruins Rely On Jaro Halak To Carry The Load?



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On Friday’s edition of Sportsnet Hockey Central, analyst Brian Burke didn’t pull any punches when citing reasons why he’s ‘not that excited’ about the Boston Bruins being legit Stanley Cup contenders and at the front of the list was the play of Jaro Halak after Tuukka Rask left the bubble.

“He’s no Batman, he’s just a good Robin,” Burke quipped of Halak.

Will Rask and Halak be the best 1-2 punch between the pipes again and win the William Jennings Trophy? Can the Bruins really depend on Halak in the Stanley Cup Playoffs or if Rask is out for an extended period of regular season time as he was in the NHL Bubble during the NHL Return To Play?

On Friday, we posed that question to one NHL Pro Scout and to a former NHL goaltending coach. The scout, due to the fact he works for another NHL team, is required to remain anonymous. The former goalie coach asked to do the same. 

“With the potential loss of [Zdeno] Chara on D and clearly a youth movement on defense, plus the way Halak played when Rask went home, I’m not so sure they’re the best tandem in the NHL anymore,” the longtime scout told Boston Hockey Now recently. “Halak looked his age and they can’t depend on him if Tuukka goes down for a while again.”

From the goalie coach:

“That calmness; that structure; that was nowhere to be found in the bubble. I get it was hard but it was hard for everyone and Rask suddenly being out – no matter the circumstance – that’s why they signed Halak for another year. I’m not sure based on this, he can handle what’s going to be a drastically increased workload in a shortened and condensed season. 

I’ll tell you this now, I’d take Carey Price and Jake Allen any day over these two. Rask is one of the best in the world but he can’t be depended on and looks like Halak too.”

Those are brutally honest assessments – and in the case of the goalie coach, a scathing one – and hard to argue given both Rask’s and Halak’s performances in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Rask was 1-3 with a 2.54 GAA and .904 save percentage before leaving the Toronto bubble just prior to Game 3 of the Bruins’ Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series with the Carolina Hurricanes. The series was tied at a game apiece at that point and Halak came in and got the job done making 29 saves in a 31 Game 3 victory for the Bruins. 

The 35-year-old netminder helped the Bruins finish the Hurricanes off in five games but he struggled mightily and finished the playoffs 4-5 with a 2.76 GAA and .902 save percentage. He was pulled after allowing four goals on 16 shots in a 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3. The Bruins would lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in five games.  

When the Boston Bruins signed Halak to a one-year extension worth $2.25 million back on May 1, the Rask-Halak duo had finished the 2019-20 regular season with a league-best combined goals-against average of 2.39; allowed two regulation goals or fewer in 41 of 70 games before the Coronavirus paused the season and allowed just 167 goals total, the fewest in the NHL.

At the time of the signing, Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney cited the likelihood of a condensed 2020-21 regular season as one of the reasons he wanted to make sure he locked up the goalie, who at the time, many viewed as the best 1B in the biz. 

“We’re very, very comfortable with where our goaltending’s at,” Sweeney said back on October 5. “I think you’re going to need it. I don’t know what the schedule and what the season — I think there’s a lot of things that are up in the air. It could be a challenging environment from a season standpoint and might make the goaltending even more a big part of what you’ve got to have going forward.” 

Rask (10 first-place votes) finished second in Vezina Trophy voting to Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebucyk (19 first-place votes). Rask was 26-8-6 with a 2.12 GAA and .929 save percentage in the regular season. The feel around the NHL seems to be that the only reason Rask isn’t on another team right now after Sweeney reportedly entertained offers for the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner is because Sweeney couldn’t land another goalie that could come in and play anywhere close to the way Rask did during the regular season and the idea of rookie Dan Vladar and Halak being a 1A and 1B in a truncated season is not that enticing.

Rask and Halak will be the goalie tandem for the Boston Bruins but if Halak, when forced to play for an extended period of time, doesn’t perform the way he did during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 regular seasons, Sweeney could be looking for a superhero to save the day. The problem is that the goalie carousel already took place this offseason and barring an impact trade, the Bruins are likely stuck with the Rask-Halak tandem no matter what in 2021. 

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Question: How many #1 goalies get hurt? Answer: a lot.
Question: How many teams improve by playing their #2 goalie? Answer: not many.

Although there may be teams with better goal tending tandems, the Bruins aren’t in bad shape. They have some young goalies in the pipeline so the long-term outlook isn’t bad. If Rask goes walkabout, as he did during the past playoffs, then the Bruins have a problem. One hopes and assumes that won’t be the case.

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