Bruins Notebook

Heading for a tutorial

Rask to meet with assistant Essensa

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / January 3, 2011

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TORONTO — Tuukka Rask’s best NHL days are ahead of him, but for now too many pucks are getting behind him. So he’s going to sit for a while, until he and goalie coach Bob Essensa chase away the gremlins that have worked their way into the young Finnish netminder’s game.

“We need him to play well,’’ coach Claude Julien said yesterday, less than 24 hours after he hooked Rask after only 20 minutes in a 7-6 shootout loss Saturday night in Buffalo. “He’ll find his game, no doubt . . . and he will find it soon.’’

Things change quickly in the NHL, even for struggling netminders (remember Vezina-winning Tim Thomas losing the starting job to Rask last season?), but it’s doubtful anything is going to change before tonight’s conclusion of a five-game trip, when the Bruins take on the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Thomas is expected in net. Rask is expected to play the part of interested onlooker at the end of the bench. And by no later than Wednesday, Rask is expected to meet with Essensa in a tutorial aimed at getting the goalie’s mind and mechanics in synch.

In Julien’s opinion, Rask’s mechanics are fine, which means Essensa won’t be looking to clip the wings from the kid’s butterfly style. Rather, said Julien, Rask needs to reconnect with his confidence, focus his mental energy on being more the 22-12-5 backstop everyone saw last season rather than the 2-7-1 evil-twin version who lasted only a period against the popgun Sabres.

“I’d say it’s more confidence now . . . head stuff,’’ said Julien. “Mechanically, he’s a sound goaltender . . . he needs to build his confidence back up.’’

Of course, that’s a classic chicken-and-egg situation: player needs to regain confidence, but coach is reluctant to stick with him. It’s all the more difficult for goalies to work their way out of it, of course, because reduced ice time for a goalie means not playing — unlike being one of, say, 12 forwards or six defensemen who is trying to right his game.

Wisely, Rask kept his comments to a minimum after getting yanked Saturday. Asked if he were surprised to be supplanted by Thomas after 20 minutes, he offered only, “I’m not going to say yes or no.’’

Later, Rask added, “I gave up some bad rebounds, it was definitely not my best [performance] . . . they weren’t the weakest goals either, but . . . ’’

Unless fatigue or injury hold him back, Thomas is Boston’s puck-stopper in perpetuity. Or at least until Essensa the teacher gets Rask the student reconnected with his “A’’ game.

Stomaching practice Gregory Campbell, felled by a stomach bug in the middle of this trip, returned to complete a full 45-minute on-ice workout in suburban Etobicoke, Ontario, late yesterday morning. Julien figured it’s 50-50 whether Campbell will be fit enough to suit up against the Leafs. The plucky pivot practiced on a line that had rookie Tyler Seguin at left wing and Shawn Thornton the on right, with veteran Danny Paille working in as an extra.

“Not sure if I’ve lost weight, but I’ve only managed to have two meals in the last 3 1/2 days,’’ said Campbell. “My suit felt a little baggy when I put it on today.’’

Bone-jarring Johnny Boychuk took a slapper off the inside of his right ankle late in the first period Saturday night and slipped into the dressing room moments before the first intermission. “Not a problem,’’ Boychuk reported after yesterday’s workout. “One of those things. The guy’s shot hit me right on the bone and everything went numb for a while. But it’s fine today.’’ . . . Zdeno Chara was delightfully surprised to learn of the club mark Saturday of four Bruins defensemen scoring goals. “That’s a record, really? I didn’t know that,’’ said Big Z, who sometimes displays a refreshing Big Kid side to his personality. “That’s great!’’ Chara, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, and rookie Steven Kampfer were the blue-line bombardiers . . . Nathan Horton has gone nine games without a goal. It’s beginning to look a lot like Sunrise, without the sunny Florida skies . . . Milan Lucic has gone seven straight without a goal.

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