After dispatching a tough Washington Capitals team in the first round, the Rangers have been rewarded with the Boston Bruins as their next opponent. Boston is coming off a somewhat improbable victory over an upstart Maple Leafs squad who is trending in the right direction. Opposing The King in this series will be former Maple Leaf, Tuukka Rask.
Rask is a former 1st round pick of the Leafs (21st overall), who was moved to the Bruins for Andrew Raycroft (!) just before the 2007 season. Rask was putting up solid numbers in Finland, but was just 19 years old at the time of the deal. Toronto needed established goaltending now, and had Justin Pogge waiting in the wings. This left Rask expendable, and former Bruin’s interim GM and current Rangers assistant GM, Jeff Gorton, was more than willing to make that deal. Obviously, this one worked out well for Boston. Rask made it over to North America in 2009-2010, and has been groomed as Boston’s goalie of the future ever since.
Ok, enough with the history lesson, let’s break down Rask’s game. Since Tim Thomas was the starting goalie in Boston the last time I scouted the B’s, Rask gets the full format. General style, strengths, weaknesses and how the Rangers should approach the matchup. Here we go…
From an overall ability standpoint, Rask is quietly becoming an elite tender in the NHL. I had him at #19 in my pre-season rankings and he will definitely be moving up that list for next season.
The thing with Rask is that he is a jack-of-all-trades types goaltender, with no standout tool, but his whole game is well above-average. He has size (6’2”), but he doesn’t play a particularly blocking-oriented style, he has quickness and quality technique (though not the technical marvels that Jon Quick or Henrik Lundqvist are) and an above-average ability to handle the puck (but he’s no Marty Brodeur).
What this adds up to is a high-quality goaltending package that can adapt to any system and be successful facing 20 shots or 40 shots per game.
As mentioned above, individual strengths are hard to come by with Rask, since he does everything well. However, the biggest factors to his success have been four-fold: poise, vision, compete level and positioning. He maintains a very calm demeanor in net, and aside from a few outcome oriented displays of emotion, he doesn’t get too rattled.
Rask also sees the play develop better than most NHL goalies. He has the ability to make in game adjustments to offensive systems and different looks on both the transition and special teams. He also sees the puck well through traffic and maintains solid body position, even when craning his neck to look around screens in front.
While being the apprentice of Tim Thomas could have lead to some bad (re: absurd) habits forming, the only tangible stylistic characteristic Rask took from Thomas was his unmatched ability to battle for pucks. Rask never gives up on a play, and has been known to break from his technical style to make saves unconventionally. Generally speaking, though, he is very technically sound.
Finally, his positioning is amongst the best in the NHL. He rarely seems to get beat from off-angles and his save techniques leave him in quality position to handle second and third chances. He uses concise butterfly slides to move around the net-mouth on in-close chances, limiting his exposure along the ice itself.
This section is tough to round out, since Rask has no real weaknesses in the traditional sense. There are some circumstantial weaknesses that could be exploited, however. If you are looking from a Luongo to Holtby scale for blocking versus reflexive style, Rask lies almost exactly in the middle. He wears relatively small equipment and his style does not really lend itself to maximizing surface area or walling up on scrambles in front.
His movement can create holes, and his lack of oversized gear somewhat exacerbates this problem. He is prone to deflection goals and holes can be found between his arms and between his pads and gloves. (Good news for Rick Nash)
Not necessarily a weakness, but I couldn’t write this entire post without mentioning that god-awful bucket Rask wears. That thing makes Hank’s masks look classy and understated, which is a tall order.
How the Rangers should approach the matchup
This matchup will most likely be dictated by the Rangers game-plan against the five Bruins in front of Rask, rather than Rask himself. The goal is pretty much the same as it has always been; possess the puck, try to work the puck to the front of the net and create some space low in the zone.
Trying to get some pucks through from the point would also help the Rangers’ cause against Boston, as well as having a strong net-front presence for rebounds and low lateral passes.
Rask presents a tough challenge for the Rangers, but considering the way Braden Holtby played in the previous series, I don’t expect Rask to be measurably better. He will still be a handful, though. But, as with pretty much any series the Rangers play in, I believe they still have a strong advantage between the pipes.