BOSTON - Bruce Cassidy is going back to his ace. Boston's bench boss announced following Saturday morning's practice at Warrior Ice Arena that Tuukka Rask will make the start when the Bruins host the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.
Back-up netminder Anton Khudobin has started the last four games - winning all of them - during a scorching stretch that has seen him soar to third in the league in save percentage (.932) and goals against average (2.22).
"He's used to playing a lot of hockey, but hasn't for a while," Cassidy said of Rask, who has not started since Nov. 15 in Anaheim. "I guess you could say he can treat it like he's coming off an injury and hasn't played in a bit. He's been practicing, practicing well. It's his turn to go.
"We've got terrific goaltending out of [Anton Khudobin], we'd like to get terrific goaltending out of Tuukka so everything is terrific. But we'll see, it's his chance [on Sunday]. That's it."
Video: Cassidy names Rask starter for Sunday's game
Cassidy had considered playing Rask on Friday against Pittsburgh, but felt it was unfair to throw him into the fire, considering the team had not practiced on Thanksgiving.
"We talked a bit about there are good times to get into games," said Cassidy. "I didn't think [Friday] would be a perfect game for him because we didn't practice the day before. He got a solid practice in today, so he'll go in [against Edmonton] and we'll worry about Wednesday [on] Wednesday."
Rask has lost three straight starts and has posted a 2.89 goals against average and .897 save percentage in 12 games this season. Cassidy is banking on the idea that his decision to ride Khudobin's hot streak can act as internal competition that will benefit the Bruins.
"Absolutely. You create competition in your lineup, for anybody, I think it makes you better," said Cassidy. "It just makes you better. It gives you difficult decisions, but they become easier if you know you can trust both of them in any position. Internal competition, I think, is good for any team in any sport."
Marchand Ruled Out
Brad Marchand will miss his sixth straight game with an undisclosed ailment, as Cassidy ruled out the winger for Sunday's tilt against Edmonton. It appears that Wednesday's game against Tampa Bay is a more realistic return date.
"I want to bring him back as soon as he's medically cleared, personally as a coach," said Cassidy. "That's the medical staff's decision. They're not clearing to him play…obviously you want him back 100 percent healthy. But as a coach I'm selfish that way. As soon as they're ready I'd like to have him back in the lineup, especially a guy of his caliber."
Another Step for Backes
David Backes made the next progression in his recovery as he shed the burgundy non-contact jersey for Saturday's practice. While no date has been set for a return to game action, the veteran forward is inching closer.
He has played in just five games this season (one assist) after a bout with diverticulitis and subsequent colon surgery.
"Not a ton of contact in practice, but trying to have guys lean on me and lean on other guys [and] continue to that progression to hopefully getting back as soon as we can. Whenever that is we'll see, it's another step today," said Backes, who initially was given an approximately eight-week recovery time following the procedure on Nov. 2.
"You can skate on your own all you want, but the real fatigue is when you're leaning on guys, battling around, and trying to find pucks and seeing how muscles react. Seemed like another good day, no issues yet. We'll continue to monitor and progress and hopefully be putting on a game jersey here in short order."
Power Play Woes
One area that has suffered during the Bruins' win streak is the power play. Since Nov. 6 - a span of nine games - Boston is 1 for 28 (0.04%) on the man advantage, and is 0 for its last 16. They have not scored a power-play goal since David Pastrnak's tally on Nov. 10 in Toronto.
The stiff drop-off is, no doubt, partly a product of the B's injury woes, which have forced both units into flux. Nonetheless, it has been an unseemly descent. After sitting in the top five in the league for much of the first month-plus, Boston has plummeted to 19th in the league on the power play (18.3%).
Cassidy believes his team's biggest problem has been an attempt to be too perfect.
"Our entries have been cleaned up, we're getting in. We had some dysfunction there for a while with the different guys in and out," said Cassidy. "I do think there's some rhythm on our entries, some chemistry. In zone, I don't think we're putting enough pucks at the net. We're overlooking shots, looking for a perfect play. Right now, it's not clicking, and if it does we're not finishing."
During Saturday's practice, the first unit consisted of Torey Krug at the point, with Patrice Bergeron as the bumper, Jake DeBrusk as the net-front, and David Pastrnak and Danton Heinen as the flanks. The second unit had Charlie McAvoy at the point, Frank Vatrano as the bumper, Jordan Szwarz as the net-front, and David Krejci and Zdeno Chara on the flanks.
Anders Bjork, Peter Cehlarik, and Ryan Spooner missed practice on Saturday.
Cehlarik was injured in Friday's win over Pittsburgh and was struggling to put pressure on his left leg as he hobbled off the ice.
"He's at the doctor's today, so he's day-to-day right now. Probably have more for you [Sunday] on that," said Cassidy.
Spooner was given a maintenance day and is considered a game-time decision for the game with Edmonton, while Bjork remains week-to-week with an undisclosed ailment.
With the question marks up front, Jordan Szwarz was recalled from Providence on an emergency basis Saturday morning. Rob O'Gara, meanwhile, was assigned to the P-Bruins.
Szwarz, who had been assigned to Providence on Wednesday, has three assists in nine games with Boston this season. O'Gara played in seven games with the big club during his recent call-up.