With captains’ practices just two short weeks from commencing, WEEI.com will be looking at the questions facing the defending Stanley Cup  champions in the 2011-12 season.
Up next is the question of what goaltender Tuukka Rask ‘s season will hold. The case of Rask is an interesting one, as he was the best statistical goalie in the league in 2009-10 before watching Tim Thomas  wrest the starting job away last year. There are other factors at work as well, including the offseason knee surgery he’s coming off of and the fact that he’ll be a restricted free agent at season’s end.
Speaking prior to Milan Lucic ‘s Rock and Jock softball game Wednesday in Lowell, Rask discussed the arthroscopic procedure he had on his left knee. The surgery required between four and five weeks recovery time, but Rask is now feeling healthy after suffering the injury midway through last season.
Could the knee be the reason as to why Rask went from having a league-best 1.97 goals against average and .931 save percentage in 2009-10 to posting a mediocre 2.67 GAA and .918 save percentage last season? He isn’t ready to say so, as he denied feeling significant discomfort in the knee.
‘It actually happened in January, I tweaked it, but it didn’t stop me from playing or practicing,’ Rask said. ‘It was just something that we saw that was better to fix, because it would have bugged [me] in the future at some point, so it was just a minor fix-up, but the recovery was a few weeks.’
Now, whether it’s through health or increased playing time, Rask has to be hoping to post better numbers this season. There is certainly something to be said for a goaltender getting in a rhythm, and Thomas’ dominance made it nearly impossible for the Bruins to give Rask the amount of time a netminder of his caliber deserves.
If it is more time between the pipes that will lead to more 2009-10-like numbers, Rask could be in luck. Yes, Thomas is unquestionably the best goaltender in the league right now, but he is also the oldest player to win the Vezina since the adaptation of its current criteria. Rask played in only 29 games last year, good for approximately 35 percent of the regular season schedule. Assuming neither player gets injured, the Bruins could go with a closer split to give each guy a chance to take control of the job a la Thomas last season. Additionally, if the two split time a little more evenly than last season, neither goaltender would run as big a risk of getting cold.
Then there’s the matter of the guys playing in front of him. The Bruins often struggled to give him whatever the hockey equivalent of run support is (he had an 11-14-2 record), and players often lamented the way they played in front of Rask following losses. If both Rask and his teammates can pick it up in games he starts this season, he could be a richer man come next summer. The guess here is that he gets upwards of 35 starts and posts a GAA somewhere in the 2.20 range.
One thing that is safe to say about Rask is that he won’t be a poor sport if he ends up spending more time on the bench. He was among the most chipper Bruins during their Cup run, wearing Nathan Horton ‘s helmet for fun and commonly being in the middle of Bruins’ on-ice celebrations after series wins. He said Wednesday that it’s the up-and-down nature of the last two seasons that have taught him to be a team guy no matter what.
‘I mean, anything can happen, right?’ Rask said of what he’s learned. ‘And you’ve just got to go day-by-day and no matter what, be a great teammate, because even if you’re playing or you’re not playing, you’ve still got to support the guys and be a part of the group, so that was the really big thing I learned the past two years.’