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Boston Bruins

Bruins’ Season Being Shaped by Home-Ice Woes

04 February 2016: Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (40) in action during an NHL game between the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY. (Jerome Davis/Icon Sportswire)

At first glance, it seems the Boston Bruins have posted a very successful 2015-16 season so far.

The club ranks third in the Atlantic Division with 62 points, tied with the second place Tampa Bay Lightning, and looks set to return to the postseason after missing the playoffs last year for the first time in eight seasons.

While the 2015-16 campaign has indeed been a strong one for the Bruins, the club has shown one interesting flaw – they’re a much much better team on the road than in their own building.

Through 52 games, the Bruins have posted an exceptional away record of 16-5-3, giving them the second-most road wins of any Eastern Conference team. However, they’ve won only 12 of 28 games in their own arena, and their 13 regulation losses at home rank as the second-most in the league (only the Buffalo Sabres have fared worse).

It’s an intriguing problem for the Bruins, especially considering their recent history at TD Garden. Boston lost only 10 games in regulation at home last season (alongside 24 total home wins), and dominated in this regard during the season prior, putting together a 31-7-3 record on home ice.

But this season, that script has been flipped, and it isn’t too hard to find the culprit of the team’s home-ice woes.

It certainly doesn’t seem to be their offense, as the Bruins have been fairly consistent in terms of their offensive production regardless of the setting. They’ve tallied 74 goals in 24 road games thus far and 77 goals in 28 home games – a slightly lower goals per game rate on home ice, but seemingly not a significant drop.

Rather, the central issue has been their goaltending. While the Bruins boast the best overall save percentage in the league on the road (0.930 percent), they rank third to last in this regard at home, sitting with a mark of only 0.896 percent – just a hair above the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets’ 0.894 percent.

Veteran netminder Tuukka Rask has been at the centre of the team’s underperformance at TD Garden. Rask has simply looked like a different player when suiting up in opposing buildings, yet he continues to falter when returning to his own rink.

In 17 road games, Rask has posted a 0.939 save percentage (the third best such mark among all regular starting net minders) and a goals against average of 1.89 (the second best average among this previously mentioned group).

It’s been an entirely different story at home. In 21 games at TD Garden, Rask has posted a subpar save-percentage of 0.893 and a similarly uninspiring goals against average of 2.92. Both marks rank him in the bottom three in the league among all regular starting net minders.

Even more astounding is the fact that Rask’s horrid numbers at home include three shutouts. The fact that these three sterling appearances weren’t enough to bring his home stat line to a reasonable level are telling, and a closer look reveals this to be the case. While he managed to post goose eggs against Arizona, Toronto, and Pittsburgh, Rask seemed to falter in nearly every other game in Boston. He’s allowed four or more goals on seven different occasions, all of which were at home, and has allowed at least three goals in 14 of 21 total home appearances.

Shaking the home ice bug hasn’t been easy for the 28-year-old, even recently, as he’s dropped five of his last seven contests at TD Garden (with the two wins coming over Toronto and Buffalo).

Much like the Bruins as a whole, the problem is a new one for Rask, as he’s historically been great on home ice. In 2014-15, his home and away numbers were fairly even (0.931 save-percentage and two shutouts at home, alongside a 0.914 save-percentage and one shutout on the road), though skewing slightly in favour of his home performances. In 2013-14, he was in fact much better at home, posting a 0.941 save-percentage and five shutouts at home, alongside a 0.916 save-percentage and two shutouts on the road.

Over the course of his career as a whole, Rask has seemed to play at a much higher level in his own barn. The Finnish native has a career home-ice save percentage of 0.928 – slightly better than his career road save-percentage of 0.922 – but also boasts 21 shutouts at home as opposed to only nine in away games.

And yet, somehow, that career success hasn’t translated to 2015-16, resulting in a Bruins team that seems a much bigger threat in opposing teams’ rinks than in their own.

06 February 2016: Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) [28] tries to beat Buffalo Sabres center Johan Larsson (22) [7877] to the puck. The Boston Bruins defeated the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 (OT) in a regular season NHL game at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photograph by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 (Photograph by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Rask may not be entirely to blame, however. While he hasn’t delivered for his club in regards to keeping pucks out of the net at home, his defense hasn’t done him any favors either. The Bruins blue line has seemingly been much more porous at TD Garden than on the road – while they’ve limited opponents to a total of 727 shots-against in road games (the fourth-least in the league), they’ve in fact allowed 827 shots-against in home games (the third-most in the league).

Regardless of who exactly bears the most blame, it seems clear that the Bruins have a problem on their hands. It may not play much of a role over the next month, when only three of their 11 games will be at home, but things could certainly get dicey down the line when the schedule evens out. March and April bring a fairly even spread of home and away games for Boston, and given the club’s offensive prowess this season (only Washington and Dallas have more goals-for per game), there’s a strong chance the Bruins will continue climbing and will net home ice for the first round of the postseason.

If their home-ice woes seemed to be the result of some easily identifiable factor, it could be argued that the intensity of the playoffs and the Bruins’ postseason experience might lead them to move past these issues once the games’ importance ramps up. However, the team seems to be falling at home mainly due to Rask’s inexplicably diminished play in his home rink. It isn’t clear how exactly the organization moves past an obstacle like that, besides simply hoping the veteran rights the ship in time.

But with Boston posting similarly subpar results at home as recently as earlier this month, it seems the remedy hasn’t been found just yet, and a quick fix doesn’t look to be coming any time soon.

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