Looking back at the last several weeks of Bruins play there are some things that are readily apparent, like:
- less capable replacements
- mid season boredom
- some atrocious calls by on ice officials and the office of Player Safety
What’s less apparent is that up until his injury, the Bruins were sliding Tuukka Rask into just about every other game. It started in late December, and continued on from there. Unlike years past where Thomas would get six or seven games then Rask one or two, Thomas for five or six, then Rask in one half of a back to back, then Thomas again for several games. The rinse and repeat continued unless one of the two had a much better record against a given opponent.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or Jack Adams winner to notice Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas have different playings styles. Rask is a methodical butterfly goalie. He very rarely goes even one step outside the crease and the number of times he’s gone two steps outside the crease while play is below the dots can probably be counted on one hand. He plays upright, and in a very similar manner to goalies like Lundqvist. He’s also played well so far playing just the few games at a time and seems to wear down after five or six. In comparison to his crease crony he’s pretty passive in game play. Sure milk crates fear his very shadow, but other players?
Tim Thomas on the other hand uses what some have called the “battlefly” style. He’s aggressive. He’s athletic. He’s rarely still. He’ll come three or four steps outside the crease if he feels more confident about making the save half a dozen times a game and not consider it worth noticing. He’ll initiate contact with opponents. If he figured out how to do it and thought it would help he’d split himself in three to make saves.
While neither goalie is anyway an adept puck handler, where they leave the puck for their defenseman is often a little different. In addition to their playing style there’s a couple physical differences. Thomas looks like the “Tank” he is sometimes called. He’s shorter than Rask, barrel chested, and about thirty pounds heavier. Rask is whipcord over bone, tall, gangly and absolutely needs to make sure his shoulders are square on every shot to have a chance at saving it. He’s got much the same physical body type as David Krejci, but is even skinnier and several inches taller. The biggest similarity between the two is that both catch with their left hand.
All of these differences present adjustment difficulties for the skaters. Standing three strides out of the crease with Rask in net means you’re well clear of his comfort zone and likely have room to pivot and retrieve any pucks that leak through or hit him and fall straight in front of him. That same distance out is well within Thomas’s comfort zone. Then there’s the height difference. Neither is going to be able to see over Chara, McQuaid or Lucic, but if Ference, Bergeron, or one much of the team have their edges set for a puck battle either should be able to see over or around them depending on the angle, but Rask will have a slight advantage. Thomas has a better lateral range of the two by virtue of having a better glove, and rarely going down into a butterfly until a puck is inbound.
Most of the the time the two have shared the crease there has been a much wider split in games played, and barring injuries one subbed in for the other only intermittently. As different as their physical attribute are, and their playing styles making the adjustment two or three times a month at most may have kept players more aware of the difference and what they meant for their play. The constant back and forth in the weeks heading up to the Rask injury may have thrown all parties off.