LONGUEUIL, QC. – One of the greatest debates in hockey has to be whether a young hockey player is ready to pierce the lineup of an NHL franchise. We’ve seen and heard these debates time and time again and in
Montreal, we don’t have to back up the time machine very far to cross a recent example. Fans argued for the better part of the last few months on whether young prospect Alex Galchenyuk should stay with the Canadiens, or be sent back to Sarnia with his junior team and it appears all but certain that he’ll remain with the Canadiens until the end of the season.
Before I was brought into the team of writers at All Habs, I had written a guest column for the site entitled Comparing Tuukka Rask and Carey Price – A Goalie’s View. The column, which was written in September before the start of the 2010-11 season, illustrated how both Price and Rask had taken very different paths to the NHL even though both had been selected in the first round of the 2005 NHL entry draft (Price 5th overall, Rask 21st overall).
I went on to explain how Price had been rushed to the NHL, only playing two regular season games and a playoff in the AHL (winning the Calder Cup mind you) before getting his taste of the NHL with the Canadiens. In comparison, Rask had played almost a hundred professional games over two seasons in the AHL before getting true playing time in the NHL with the Boston Bruins.
At the time, you could have argued that the “Rask” approach was the preferred approach if comparing rookie stats for both goaltenders:
Although both had similar records, Rask had the better numbers in Goals Against Average (GAA) and Save Percentage (Sv%). Rask also had a higher number of shutouts on a team that finished 14th overall in 2009-10, while Price played for a team that finished 3rd overall in 2007-08.
To put you into the context of September 2010 when I wrote this column:
- Tim Thomas had lost his number one role in the latter part of the previous season and it appeared Rask would continue to be the number one going into the 2010-11 season.
- Similar to Thomas, Price had lost his number one role to Jaroslav Halak in the latter part of the previous season.
- In a move that divided fans, Halak was traded to the St. Louis Blue in the offseason and Price was resigned to a two-year, $5.5M contract.
I also blurted out the following statements:
- “I continue to strongly believe Carey Price will grow into a strong dominant goaltender in this league and as for Rask, I also believe he has what it takes to be a consistent force in this league. Both have great technique, which in my opinion is the key”
- “All goaltenders go through bad periods in their career, and it’s those that can fall back on their technique that are able to regain their confidence to snap out of those difficult situations.”
- “As for their mental ability, I continue to believe that until a goaltender is AT LEAST 25 years of age, you simply just don’t know. Both have the potential, whether people are sick and tired of hearing about potential or not. Personally, I would not be surprised if both ended up being dominant forces in the NHL 3-5 years from now.”
Then the season started and two months later, I realized I needed to write another article.
While the 2009-10 season had finished with Price struggling and Rask dominant, the start of the 2010-11 season was quite the opposite.
15 Games into the season, Price had a record of 9-5-1, a GAA of 2.19, a Sv% of .923 per cent and two shutouts. Rask on the other hand, had a GAA of 2.75, interestingly enough the same respectable Sv% of .923 per cent as Price, but he just could not buy himself a win. While Price had 15 games under his belt at this point in the season, Rask had only played five games and lost his number one spot to Thomas who had eight wins in nine starts. Although I didn’t believe it would last for Thomas, it did and we all remember what we wish we could forget, the season ending with the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup. Ugh.
Fast forward two years and a lockout later, I felt it was time to revisit the subject; especially considering Tuukka Rask is back at the number one position in Boston, while Tim Thomas is gator-hunting in Florida. (I would assume)
Let’s examine how each goalie has done so far this season.
2012-13 – Tuukka Rask:
In Rask’s first game against the New York Rangers, I saw an aggressive goaltender who challenged shooters at the top of his crease and sometimes much farther out. The lone goal against was a knuckler shot through traffic, which found its way into the top-corner, he didn’t have much of a chance. Otherwise, he stopped 20 of 21 shots and appeared as a more confident goaltender than he had in previous seasons.
“I felt good throughout the game,” said Rask. “The guys made my job so easy, because I saw pretty much everything.”
In Rask’s second game against the Winnipeg Jets, just two minutes into the game and on a play where his defense couldn’t find their bearings, he allowed a big fat rebound to remain in the slot and the second shot when directly past him. He later showed that his confidence hadn’t been rattled, stoning Kyle Wellwood on a breakaway mid-way through the first period. He was perfect the rest of the way (mostly, stopped two of three in the shootout), and the Bruins would win it in a shootout.
Rask’s third game and second of the season against the Rangers didn’t go as well as the first, losing 4-3 in overtime. The first goal against was for the highlight reels as Brad Richards deposited a puck into the offensive zone, which Rick Nash picked up before throwing it over to Marian Gaborik, who flipped the puck over a sprawling Rask. On the second goal, Rask did a good job of getting out of his net to cut down the angle, but left a rebound on the shot by Michael Del Zotto directly in front of the net, which Gaborik buried for his second. The third goal was similar to the second as Rask left a juicy rebound, which Taylor Pyatt shot into the net before being crosschecked to the ice a la Boston Bruins. Even if I’m sure he would have liked to have a couple of those goals back, Rask finished the game strong, multiplying save after save, allowing the Bruins to get a precious point by going in overtime. Just before, he had made an incredible stop on both Nash and Gaborik, with only seconds left in the third period. He was beat in overtime by Marian Gaborik on a breakaway, completing the hat-trick.
In Rask’s fourth and latest game of the season against the New York Islanders, he and the Bruins spoiled Rick DiPietro’s return as the Bruins won the game by a score of 4-2. On the first goal against, Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk missed their coverage and allowed Keith Aucoin to walk into the slot all alone and redirect a pass into the net. On the second goal, Aucoin scored his second of the game by blasting a one-timer from the top of the crease past Rask. Rather than move his body towards the puck, Rask’s mistake was moving away from the puck and missing it with his glove. Sign that he misread the shooter on that play.
Has Rask been perfect this season? No, not at all. His biggest weakness would have to be his rebound control. If you can’t swallow pucks, you need to redirect the rebounds into the corners where there’s no immediate threat of a follow up shot.
Otherwise, he’s shown signs of confidence, playing aggressively out of his crease. He’s made tremendous stops, notably players like Nash and Gaborik, on a team that many consider favorite to win the Stanley Cup this season (Rangers). He’s been very good on breakaways and in shootout, so there are many positive signs that Tuukka Rask’s development is on the right track.
2012-13 – Carey Price:
I’ve already written about what I thought of Carey Price’s play in his first game this season, in a recent article entitled Carey Price is Groin to be Alright. What I thought of his play that night could be summarized by this quote from the column: “For a goaltender in their first game of the season, all I like to see are positive things. In Price’s case, that’s all I saw. A goalie who stood tall, confident, aggressive, challenged shooters, tracked pucks through traffic and showed no signs of a lingering injury. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but I would bet that it’s a good sign of things to come for him this season.” The Canadiens had lost this game 2-1 to the Maple Leafs.
In his second game of the season against the Florida Panthers, the only goal allowed by Price was laser beam of a one-timer shot by Tomas Kopecky. The Canadiens won 4-1.l
In his third and most recent game of the season, Carey Price almost played a perfect game. He appeared relaxed and calm, like someone with no worries in the world. His puck tracking was on point and he fought through traffic to find pucks. His ability to anticipate the play allowed him to be in position to make the stop almost every time, and when he stood on the edge of his crease, his huge body covered the entire net. The rare times that he allowed rebounds, the correct leg always went up first, allowing him to give a strong lateral push and be in position for the rebound. The only goal he allowed was a heartbreaker of a shutout masher, where it appeared everyone fell asleep and allowed Joey Crabb to walk into the slot and deflect one past Price.
I often here that Carey Price doesn’t make big saves. I’ve always said that he puts himself in a position where he doesn’t need to. Goalies who make big saves by lunging their bodies in desperation at pucks floating towards empty nets are very often, simply goalies that got caught out of position. This is rarely the case with Price; He reads the play better than anyone in the league. So while good goalies make great saves look difficult, just remember that great goalies make difficult saves look easy.
Both goalies are off to very good starts with their respective teams this season, but if I had to rank them, I’d have to give an advantage to Price at this stage of the game. While Rask still appears as a young goalie learning to find his way, Price appears as a solid veteran, who has been there, and done that. Interesting note however, this is technically Rask’s fourth season with the Bruins, and Price’s fourth season was when he had his best season so far in his young career.
All of this said, are we in any position to really say whether the approach of Rask playing two seasons in the AHL was better than Price being rushed into the NHL? Obviously, one example is not a sample size anyone can rely on. I do however strongly believe that with the growing pains that come with it, a goaltender brought into the league at an early age learns very early on what it takes to win in this league, and I’m tempted to believe that this could help accelerate the maturity process for the player. Then again, can you really apply a theory and say that it will work on everyone? I doubt it, so much is “case by case” and people tend to forget this. Everyone’s different, and sometimes we simply have to trust those in management positions to make the right decisions.
We’ll have to checkup on these two later on this season, I have a good feeling about both of them.
Follow @stevofarnham on Twitter.