The good news is that banged up Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is traveling with the team and practiced with the extras at PPG Paints Arena on Monday morning. The bad news is Rask isn’t quite ready to play in the next few days, and either Dan Vladar or Jeremy Swayman is going to get the Tuesday night start against the Pittsburgh Penguins with Jaroslav Halak starting Monday night’s road tilt vs. the Pens.
Vladar has been backing up Halak over the last week, but the red-hot Swayman is fresh off being named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week after stopping 51 of 53 shots (.962 save percentage) over two starts for Providence last week, earning his first career shutout and pushing his winning streak to an amazing seven games to start the season.
The 22-year-old Swayman has begun his professional career with a 7-0-0 record, ranking second in the AHL with a 1.57 goals-against average and third with a .942 save percentage in his seven starts.
Rask has missed the last three games after skating awkwardly off the ice to the B’s bench a week ago in a home loss to the New Jersey Devils, and will miss at least a couple more due to what appeared to be a back injury.
“[Rask] is on the ice with the taxi squad getting some work in,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I don’t know what he’ll be able to do since its his first time back, but he’s out there. Tonight, Halak is in. Right now, it will be Vladar or Swayman [on Tuesday]. We’ve discussed both of those options and we’ll make a decision in the morning.
“The toughest part of coaching is trying to coach through mediocre-to-poor goaltending. Every mistake gets magnified, so you’re trying to play that close-to-perfect game and in this league that’s impossible. Teams are too good. We’re like the majority of teams in this league where we need the key saves at the key times. When you know you’ve got that in your back pocket, you know you can play through some of the uncomfortable moments and not stress the rest of the group by asking them to be perfect. In our case, [the goaltending strength] was one of the factors in our decision to go younger on the back end because we were solid in nets and strong down the middle.”
Halak is 1-1-1 with a .939 save percentage in the three games without Rask this week, and has been excellent stepping up with the No. 1 guy down and out.
Rask could be a possibility for later this week against the Buffalo Sabres if he can avoid any setbacks, but one would expect the Boston Bruins to treat things cautiously with their No. 1 goaltender if there’s any hints of a lingering issue. Karson Kuhlman and Steve Kampfer will enter the Bruins lineup against the Penguins on Monday night in the first of back-to-backs, and hopefully add some energy to a Black and Gold group that looked utterly dead in last weekend’s 4-0 shutout loss to the New York Rangers.
Rookies Jack Ahcan and Oskar Steen were likewise added to the Boston Bruins taxi squad for the first time this season in signs of a mini shakeup, but were kept out of the lineup for Monday night’s game.
Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings against the Penguins based on Monday’s morning skate in Pittsburgh: