BOSTON -- Last season, it was goaltender Tim Thomas who followed up a Vezina Trophy-winning season in 2008-09 with a subpar and basically nightmarish 2009-10. For whatever reason, Thomas couldn't find his groove and before he knew it he had a nagging hip injury -- which he kept hidden -- and the team in front of him seemed to lose confidence in him or simply not play well, which led to Tuukka Rask taking over the starting role.
Now 13 games into the 2010-11 season, it's Rask who seems to be slowly slipping into that goalie oblivion after another hard-luck loss. Despite making 38 saves on Thursday, Rask saw another bad bounce beat him and a mediocre effort in front of him from teammates that head coach Claude Julien said "lost their legs" after a thrilling 7-4 win Wednesday at Pittsburgh. The result: a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens and a 0-4-1 record for the snake-bitten Rask.
While Rask hasn't really been to blame for any of his losses, one has to wonder if or when his confidence will dwindle and he'll find himself in a rut similar to the one Thomas fell in last season. Julien said he doesn't think his young goaltender is there yet, but that if he gets close to that point Rask can handle it.
"Well, I think pros are pros and you can't do everything for them," Julien said of the 23-year-old who now has a 2.75 GAA and .923 save percentage. "That's part of being a pro. You've got to be mentally strong and you've got to fight through those things. The coach will always more or less help him out but he's got to do his share to work through those things if confidence becomes an issue. But I don't think he's there."
As Julien pointed out, it would be nice if Rask's teammates didn't continually struggle when he happens to be in the goal.
"It's unfortunate, because so far I don't think we've played great in front of him," Julien said. "That first game in Prague I think was our worst game ever so far this year. Tonight we weren't a very good team in front of him. I thought he played well in the St. Louis game and took us to a shootout. But I don't know that I would go after him and say that he's not playing well. I think we need to help him out a little bit. When goalies find their groove it's because the team in front of them play maybe better than we have."
The always-jovial, laid-back Rask didn't seem rattled after Thursday's game, but he is definitely puzzled as to how he could go from being 22-12-5 with a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage last season to winless through five games this season.
"It's just hockey. What can you do?" he asked. "Just try to do your best and save every puck, and if you don't get the bounces, you don't, and if you do that's great. But today there was one lucky bounce again."
The bad bounce Thursday came on the Canadiens' third goal, when Scott Gomez took a shot that seemed to have a mind of its own.
"I got a piece of that one there but then it hit the post and hit my [rear-end] and went in, so what can you say?" Rask said with a laugh, describing the goal.
Rask was then heckled by Tim Thomas, who chipped in and said, "You can't say that on TV!" To which the Finnish netminder replied with a laugh: "You can say it in Finnish!"
That sense of humor and upbeat attitude shows that Rask hasn't taken a turn for the worse just yet, but he is starting to wonder what exactly is going on here.
"Yeah... you can say that, but then it's somehow, you got to be ... you try to be prepared for those penalties too," Rask said when asked if it's all just bad luck. "But I feel like I'm always in position. I can't cover for the bounce at all and I don't know if I've got to change something or I've got a lock or if it's just bad luck. But definitely the puck's not going my way. It's just hockey."
But this isn't the hockey Rask or the Bruins expected for him after such a promising rookie season.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.