Watched chunks of the first games for Carey Price (OK, so I was watching the Leafs) and Tuukka Rask. Here’s a prediction for those of you in hockey pools:
Buy Price, sell Rask.
Being bullish on Price is easy. He’s the best in the world at his position right now; the Habs have a contending team built on defense and he won about all the trophies he could last season. Based on what he showed last night, he hasn’t lost a thing. Price was the first star in a 3-1 Montreal win and never looked like being beaten on a straight shot. As the Leafs’ color commentator noted fairly dryly, he is weak on the double deflections. Now the Leafs aren’t going to scare anybody this year — having Marc Arcobello or Peter Holland steaming down the slot on you isn’t the mindf**k that it might be with, say, Sidney Crosby or his winger, that Kessel fella — but Price wasn’t ever out of position. Most of the night the puck just hit him. That doesn’t happen if you’re not always where you oughta be.
Rask was in net for five of six against the Bruins one night later, as the Winnipeg Jets ripped the B’s a new one on opening night in da Gahden. It was more a collective collapse than crappy goaltending, but that’s why there should be a big “sell” light flashing over Rask’s head, before the Bruins roll up too many of these nights. Rask himself is only two years removed from winning the Vezina as the league’s best goalie, so a lot a people like him. I don’t, or at least not much. He’s not the wild man Tim Thomas was as far as position & fundamentals, but he’s no Carey Price, either. Rask has for years gambled: overplaying shots and angles, relying on athletic talent and good defense to cover up when he guesses wrong. It makes him a better-than-average shot stopper, but it also leaves him needing to be acrobatic to stop pucks a more orthodox goalie wouldn’t think twice about because he’s out near / past the top of his crease when a more orthodox goalie (Price, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist) has stayed at home to wait for the puck. He also gives up a crapton of big, fat rebounds, often back into the slot.
You can get away with that when your D is near-his-prime Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk and the whole team is focused on defense first. It’s a nice luxury to not have to worry about rebounds because any forward looking for one is going to have to go through a meat grinder to get to one — and then they’ll be about to be drilled for touching the puck. But when your defense is old (Chara), defensively suspect (Torrey Krug) or just useless (Adam McQuaid) rebounds are a problem. And when your team is modest at best at goal scoring, like the Bruins figure to be, you wind up playing behind which leads to turnovers, odd-man rushes & etc. and the whole team defense thing becomes more an aspiration than a habit.
A rare few goalies do well behind that kind of team — Grant Fuhr is the best I ever saw at shrugging off horrible team defense. One game I recall the Oilers had a one-goal lead and were killing the clock — and a penalty — late in the third. Despite this, Paul Coffey saw a chance to jump into a rush up ice and took it, creating a three-on-two at the other end. When they didn’t score, however, it immediately turned into a three-on-one coming back at Fuhr, who gave up the goal without really ever having a chance at stopping it after a nice passing play. A lot of goalies would have been furious at Coffey’s lack of discipline, but Fuhr just laughed and shrugged it off after the game, saying that was Paul playing Paul’s game.
I don’t see that in Rask … his game isn’t right for it; his record doesn’t show it. He’s only played No. 1 minutes twice — in 2013/14 when he won the Vezina behind that savage defense and last year, when he dropped out of the top 10 in save percentage and goals against average. With the defense shakier than it was last year, I expect Rask to be middle-of-the-pack statistically, which is about where I rate him as an NHL goalie. At some point this year, those Tuuuuuuuuu chants might well turn to boos.
UPDATE: Just saw the highlights from the Tampa Bay win and it’s worse than I thought. Rask was at least partially at fault on three of six goals against — one was a deflection that the highlight package didn’t do a slow-mo on, but goalies (even Price) need to get lucky on tips … although a goalie on his game would want that one back. Steven Stamkos’ blast and the last one Rask gets a pass on, but he got caught too deep and too tight to the near post on the first Tampa goal, leaving plenty of room for Brian Boyle to shoot at when the pass came back to the slot; then he let one under his pad short side on a shot from Jonathan Drouin when there was nothing for him to do but shoot (as in, there was no pass play) and Rask also got beat five-hole on a deke by Brian Boyle (Boyle, ffs, not the niftiest stickhandler in the league).
Rask is going to have to improve to be average this year.