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History lesson has similarities to Tim Thomas/Tuukka Rask debate 10.19.10 at 12:40 pm ET
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The season is still young — the Bruins have played one 27th of their regular season schedule — but if somebody suggested during the thick of the “lose Tim Thomas‘ $5 million cap hit at any cost” days this summer that Thomas, and not Tuukka Rask, would be the starting goaltender in three of the Bruins’ first four games, they would have been run out of town, much like many hoped Thomas would be.

Yet through no injuries and no reason other than riding the hot hand, Thomas will indeed be between the pipes as the B’s take on Alexander Ovechkin and the offensively potent Washington Capitals on Tuesday night. When it became clearer and clearer that Thomas would not be moved in the offseason, the natural line of thinking is that the two netminders would split time, with Rask seeing a clear majority of the time for the Bruins.

Rask has done nothing wrong to this point. In fact, given how poorly the Bruins played in front of him in the season-opener, he can really only be held responsible for just one of the four goals he allowed in the 5-2 loss to the Coyotes. The plan was to split time, but when Thomas took his turn and posted a shutout in the team’s 3-0 victory the next day, it was to be expected that he’d be rewarded with the start against the Devils. He once again parlayed his reward into another start, and here we are. Four games, and three starts for Tim Thomas.

It’s always fun to dig up old stories and columns and see how they pertain to the present moment (people all over the world are likely still deleting their “Don’t settle for Seguin” columns as this is being written). Here’s one written by colleague Graig Woodburn about the goaltending situation, written days after the Flyers eliminated the Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Woodburn warned that though the season ended with Rask seemingly the man, the Bruins would be wise to hold onto Thomas — even given his high price tag — to see if an Ilya Bryzgalov/ Jean-Sebastian Giguere situation could unfold. For those who don’t remember there, here’s the story: team has award-winning veteran goaltender, rookie comes in and dethrones him, team loses in playoffs, and veteran proves his worth a season later in leading the team to a Stanley Cup.

Bryzgalov didn’t struggle in his time with the Ducks that 2007-08 season (2.55 GAA, .909 save percentage), but Giguere beat him out nonetheless as the team went on to beat the Senators in the Cup finals. The enormously big difference between the two stories is that Bryzgalov ended up being waived in November, something that quite frankly would never happen with Rask, so though the story of the Ducks’ goaltending situation serves as a history lesson, it serves as quite the drastic one.

For all intents and purposes, there’s no reason to believe Rask and Thomas don’t split time in net this season, with the 23-year-old Rask perhaps still likely seeing more time. Simply put, Rask is too good. He was the best statistical goalie last season in leading the NHL in both GAA and save percentage, yet with Thomas off to a hot start, the 36-year-old has made it very difficult for the people of Boston to set their clocks to Tuukka Time just yet. Did anybody expect this? Even to those who didn’t write Thomas off, who saw the entire city of Boston nodding in approval upon hearing that Thomas would start a third straight game in October?

Neither goalie seems to be getting too high or low based on how the starts have been divvied up, and Claude Julien said on Monday that trying to pick between the two accomplished goalies “continues to be a problem for everybody but us.”

History has proven it unwise to give up on the veteran, but who needs history? Thomas is proving it now.

Read More: Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask,
Tim Thomas expected to start for Bruins vs. Alexander Ovechkin’s Capitals at 11:40 am ET
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Word out of D.C. this morning is that Tim Thomas was the first off the ice at the Bruins’ morning skate, meaning he is the likely starter between the pipes for the Bruins as they play the first of two games with the Capitals this week. Thomas is 10-4-2 in his career against the Capitals and upon hearing the stats on Monday joked that they should give him some confidence against the likes of Alexander Ovechkin.

With Thomas in goal Tuesday, he will have been the starter in three straight games after Tuukka Rask got the not in the season-opener in Prague. In two starts this season, both of which the Bruins won, Thomas has allowed just one goal — a second period tally to the Devils’ Dainius Zubrus on Saturday night — on 61 shots.

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Bruins preparing for double dose of Alexander Ovechkin 10.18.10 at 3:38 pm ET
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With the Bruins playing two games against the Washington Capitals this week, they will get their first regular season look of the year at all-galaxy scorer Alexander Ovechkin. The former top overall pick has scored at least 45 goals in each of his five seasons in the NHL, including 52 as a rookie in 2005-06 and a career-high 65 in 2007-08.

How does one defend against such a talent?

“Put Z out against him,” defenseman Matt Hunwick said on Monday. Realistically, everyone — including Zdeno Chara and the rest of the Bruins defensemen, needs to keep their eyes peeled when the Moscow native is on the ice. Here’s what players throughout the locker room had to say about Ovechkin on Monday.

Johnny Boychuk

– “He’s like a truck. He tried to hit me a couple of times and I kind of felt it. He can score and he can also make plays. You’ve just got to be aware when he’s on the ice.”

– “We all have to be on high alert. They’ve got a lot of offense, and we’ve just got to keep it simple and move the pucks up to the forwards.”

Tim Thomas

– “He’s a lot of work. He’s energy-intensive for a goalie to play against.”

– “They’re talented up and down their lineup, but you do have to be aware of when Ovechkin is on the ice. He’s a singular threat that’s different than most of the other threats.”

– “Even if he doesn’t hardly ever get a shot, he’s still going to make it a tough night for a goalie, because you’re going to be doing movement and you’re going to have to be focusing and concentrating. You have to be in perfect position to stop his shots, because you very rarely are going to be able to make a reflex save on him. If you’re going to make a save on him, it’s going to be because you had the correct positioning.”

– “They are [a fun team to watch]. I prefer to watch them on TV, but it’s a real fun challenge.”

Matt Hunwick

– “He’s someone you’ve got to be aware of. Sometimes he lurks outside of the zone when his team’s on defense, and other times he kind of gets lost. That’s always dangerous when a guy can shoot the puck like that. He only needs half a second to get it off. You always have to be aware of where he is on the ice, and for our team on the road, we have to make good line changes and try to get the matchups that we want.”

Read More: Alexander Ovechkin, Johnny Boychuk, Tim Thomas,
Tim Thomas is hip to the scene for Bruins once again at 1:56 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas has flashed his Vezina form, stopping 60 of 61 shots he has faced in his first two games of the season, both Bruins victories. He’s got a 0.50 goals against average that, as one would expect based on the number, is tops in the league in the young season. He also leads the league in save percentage (.984), and in sitting atop both categories he is leading two columns that Tuukka Rask finished last season tops in.

One can think plenty of things about the Bruins’ goaltending situation based on the last two games, but just don’t think that Thomas is getting ahead of himself.

“Those kind of stats are going to tough to keep the same,” Thomas said with a grin following Monday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “No matter what, especially at this point of the year, it’s not about stats, but it’s about getting the wins.”

And Thomas, perhaps to the surprise of some, has been in net for both of the team’s wins through the first three games. Rask started the season-opener in Prague and fell victim to a very poor night from the guys skating in front of him. As a result, and staying consistent with the team’s plan of having the goalies split time, Thomas was given the start last Sunday and ran with it, shutting out the Coyotes in a 3-0 victory.

“It feels great. It’s been a great way to start the year. Now we’re starting to get into the meat of it where it’s game after game after game after game, so you’ve got to keep it going,” Thomas said. “You pat yourself on the back for what’s been accomplished so far, but we’ve got to go right back to work.”

So what are the differences between the Thomas who has gotten off to such a hot start and the Thomas who saw Rask emerge as the starting goalie down the stretch a season ago? Well, health for one. The 36-year-old had surgery on his hip following the playoffs, which saw Rask start each game in both rounds.

Now, Thomas has been able to play at 100 percent health, something he didn’t get to do a year ago, but he’s not too fond of the notion that his hip is the only reason he’s played well to this point.

“Yes, the surgery and the hip have helped a lot, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t like I stunk up the league last year,” Thomas said. “[However, with the surgery,] I can play a totally different game.”

Indeed, Thomas did not “stink up the league” in 2009-10. He posted a respectable 2.56 GAA, which despite ranking 16th in the league made it difficult to compile wins given that the Bruins scored an NHL-worst 2.39 goals per game. Even so, when the Bruins were eliminated from the playoffs in the second round by the Flyers, there was no doubt in Thomas’ mind that he had to get the surgery, even if setbacks hovered as a possibility.

“It was so bad that [it wasn’t even a choice]. They were pretty positive right from the start, Dr. Kelly and our doctor, they were very good right from the start with a very positive outlook,” Thomas said. “Yeah, it’s not an easy recovery, it’s a four-week recovery, but they were confident that it would go well and I would be better than ever.”

Thomas did intimate that he “had some idea as to how much [the hip] was holding me back, so to speak,” but that there was no way of totally telling how things would be once he was healthy. The Bruins have to like that they’ve seen so far.

———-

Here’s a funny nugget from Thomas a few minutes after he talked about the hip: A reporter asked Thomas, who sits next to Rask in the locker room, what the similarities were between the two netminders.

“Well, we’re both-looking,” Thomas said.

Rask, sitting alone in front of his locker, smirked for a few moments before finally saying, “I like that.”

Read More: Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask,
A statistical look at the Bruins’ win over the Devils 10.17.10 at 10:34 am ET
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The Bruins went into Newark and beat the Devils with a well-balanced offensive attack and impressive goaltending from 36-year-old Tim Thomas in a 4-1 win. Each line contributed a goal — Milan Lucic, Jordan Caron, Michael Ryder, and Shawn Thornton represented lines one through four on the scoring sheet — and Thomas’ 31 saves helped him outduel Martin Brodeur in a battle of Vezina-winning netminders. Here’s a closer statistical look at the victory.

Nathan Horton led the Bruins with five shots on goal, and after three games, Zdeno Chara has the most on the team with 13. Offensively, here’s how many shots on Brodeur each line produced (naturally, this stat doesn’t take into account special teams bids, but it still gives you a good idea. Defensemen are not included).

First line (11): Lucic (2, G) – Krejci (4, A) – Horton (5, A)
Second line (3): Caron (1, G) – Bergeron (2) – Wheeler (0)
Third line (6): Recchi (1, A) – Seguin (1, A) – Ryder (4, G)
Fourth line (6): Marchand (3, A) – Campbell (0, A) – Thornton (3, G)

The most alarming number that should come from this is that the fourth line had twice as many shots on goal as the second line. With his goose egg on Saturday, Blake Wheeler now has just two shots on goal in his last two games. His play throughout the preseason and to this point has been much improved from where it was a year ago, but he’ll need to focus more on putting pucks on net, as he did five times in the season-opener.

– After going 0-for-3 with a man advantage, the Bruins’ power play is now 1-for-11 on the season, good for a 9.1 power play percentage, which is 24th in the league. Killing off four penalties effectively helped the Bruins push their penalty kill percentage up 85.7, good for 13th in the NHL.

– The first line has been consistently productive on the young season, with Lucic, David Krejci, and Horton all registering points in each game. Horton leads with the team with three goals and Krejci leads the B’s with four assists.

– Not to overreact to a two-game sample size, but this is statistically the best start Thomas has gotten off to in such a short stretch. He leads the league in broth goals against average (0.50) and save percentage (.984). Fellow Hockey East product Jonathan Quick of the Kings (0.97) is the only other goalie in the league with a sub-1.00 GAA. The problem, of course, is that Thomas is splitting time with the guy who led both categories last season in Tuukka Rask.

– Caron’s minutes certainly appear to be on the upswing, as the rookie followed up last Sunday’s 9:42 of ice time with 13:01 on Saturday.

Read More: David Krejci, Jordan Caron, Tim Thomas,
Bruins beat Devils, 4-1 10.16.10 at 9:18 pm ET
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For the second straight game, it took until the second period for the Bruins to come alive offensively, but once they did, it was substantial enough to seal a victory. The B’s responded to a 1-0 Devils lead with four unanswered goals — one from each line — in the second off Martin Brodeur and hung on for a 4-1 victory at the Prudential Center.

Notable individual feats were accomplished for the Bruins, as Jordan Caron picked up his first NHL goal, Tyler Seguin had his first career assist, and Nathan Horton picked up his 300th career point in assisting Milan Lucic‘s tally.

Tim Thomas earned the victory for the Bruins, following up a shutout last Sunday with a 31-save effort.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS

– It was good to see Caron get his first career goal out of the way. The 19-year-old struggled with confidence and over-thinking things as the preseason wore on, and was a scratch in the season-opener as a result. After Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron took notice, Bergeron, who has served as a mentor for the rookie, took Caron out for dinner and Prague to remind him that he’d be fine if he stuck to his game. The two have been linemates since Sunday’s 3-0 victory and the jitters seem to be a thing of the past.

– There weren’t any real struggles for Seguin in the preseason, but it’s still greatly encouraging to see the rookie center do more than his specialty in scoring. Seguin’s pass to set up Michael Ryder‘s go-ahead goal in the second provided proof of two things: that the second overall pick is already making a big impact and that the chemistry between Seguin and Ryder, who had a down year last season, is something that could very well take off.

– It won’t be every game that the Brad Marchand Gregory CampbellShawn Thornton line puts together a well-executed goal on Martin Brodeur, so let’s give credit where credit is due. It was Thornton’s first goal since the second game of last season, a 7-2 win over the Hurricanes at home.

– It will be very interesting to see how Claude Julien handles the decision of who starts in net for Tuesday, because Tim Thomas continued to prove on Saturday that he is no backup goalie. The 2008-09 Vezina winner stood on his head at various points of the night and kept it a close game in the early going.

Thomas made 31 saves on the night, doing so six days after stopping all 29 shots he faced in last Sunday’s 3-0 shutout over the Coyotes. Dainius Zubrus scored the lone Devils goal on a rebound in the second period.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE BRUINS

– Yes, it is but three games into the season, but the power play in its small sample size has not provided much to write home about. With the team’s 0-for-3 showing with the man advantage on Saturday, the Bruins are now 1-for-11 on the season, with Nathan Horton’s power-play goal in the third period of last Saturday’s 5-2 loss their lone saving grace.

To stick with special teams, the penalty kill was quite impressive, with Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Johnny Boychuk looking very sharp in killing off a 5-on-3 to end the first period.

– After having just two last Sunday, Blake Wheeler went all of Saturday without a shot on net. Wheeler didn’t exactly have a poor showing on Saturday, but he’ll need to read a certain Wayne Gretzky quote if he wants to improve on his 18-goal mark from last season.

Read More: Jordan Caron, Tim Thomas, Tyler Seguin,
Thomas to start Saturday at 11:56 am ET
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Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters Saturday that Tim Thomas, who is coming off a shutout in his season debut last Sunday, will be the starting goaltender when the Bruins take on the Devils on Saturday night.

Thomas, 36, made 29 saves against the Coyotes in the 3-0 victory in Prague, his 18th career shutout. Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, allowed four goals in the team’s season-opening 5-2 loss.

The game will be the Bruins first since returning from Prague, where they picked up two points in the two-game set with Phoenix. The Devils, on the other hand, have just three points in five games and lost on Friday night to the Avalanche.

Read More: Tim Thomas, Tuukka Rask,
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