|History lesson has similarities to Tim Thomas/Tuukka Rask debate||10.19.10 at 12:40 pm ET|
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.
|Tim Thomas is hip to the scene for Bruins once again||10.18.10 at 1:56 pm ET|
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.”
|Thomas to start Saturday||10.16.10 at 11:56 am ET|
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.
|Welcome back to Wilmington||10.13.10 at 10:28 am ET|
WILMINGTON — It sure isn’t as visually pleasing as Prague’s O2 Arena, but it’s good to be back at Ristuccia Arena for the Bruins’ first practice since returning from Europe.
Prior to the team’s 10:30 skate commencing, there was a bit of an on-ice meeting with 10 Bruins consisting of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Matt Hunwick, Nathan Horton, Tyler Seguin, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and Tuukka Rask.
Despite skating with the aforementioned first, smaller group, Ference did not skate with the team in practice. Judging by the team’s multi-colored sweaters, here are the forward lines.
Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Nathan Horton
Jordan Caron – Patrice Bergeron – Blake Wheeler
Dennis Seidenberg left the ice after about half an hour, so Thornton tossed a black jersey on to balance out the defense. Chara was paired with Boychuk, Hunwick was with Mark Stuart, and Thornton skated with Adam McQuaid.
|In Prague, A Fresh Start For Tim Thomas||10.10.10 at 1:37 pm ET|
PRAGUE ‘ In the Czech Republic’s capital city, Tim Thomas got a fresh start to the young season.
Coming off a lackluster 2009-2010 campaign, not to mention off-season hip surgery, the 36-year-old Bruins goalie put on an impressive show against Phoenix on Sunday as he stopped every puck that came his way and earned his first victory of the year.
Amid the howls of Coyotes fans and the growls of the Bruins faithful clad in black and gold, Thomas made the job look seemingly effortless ‘ and for nearly the entire game, it was. The Bruins defense, led by Captain Zdeno Chara, kept the pressure off Thomas and redeemed itself after allowing five goals the night before. For their part, Phoenix had just 29 shots on Thomas the entire game and worse, no goals to show for it.
Thomas could be seen lounging in the crease for much of the first two periods while most of the action was taking place across the ice. He almost looked bored, his arm resting up against the goal as his teammates took shots at Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Thomas said it wasn’t a symptom of boredom, but rather a symptom of his age.
“I’m 36,” Thomas said after the game. “That’s going to happen all the time.”
In May, the Bruins goalie underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. That, after a season in which he went 17-18 and 23-year-old hotshot Tuukka Rask seemed to garner all the praise in Boston.
It explains why Thomas was so nervous before Sunday’s game in Prague. But all things considered, it also explains why the victory felt so good.
“It’s been a long road, but it feels great to get a shutout right off the bat,” he said.
|Bruins lose opener, 5-2||10.09.10 at 2:38 pm ET|
PRAGUE — The Bruins are, quite clearly, one of the NHL’s elite teams on paper. They did everything they could for the first two periods of Saturday’s season-opener to suggest otherwise, and the glimpses of promise they did show in the third period proved to be too little, too late. The team showed all sorts of offensive and defensive weaknesses as they dropped the opener in Prague, 5-2, to the Coyotes.
Though he did allow four goals in the game, Tuukka Rask didn’t exactly struggle, as one of Phoenix’ goals came on the flukiest of plays and another came on a breakaway caused by a Daniel Paille gaffe.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE BRUINS
– Matt Hunwick. To those on twitter during the game, the poor guy was the subject of about 80 percent of the tweets from either Bruins or fans, and for good reason. Beginning the game paired with Dennis Seidenberg, Hunwick was on the ice for all of the Coyotes’ first three tallies of the game, giving him a headstart on a terrible plus/minus.
– General sloppy play was the norm from the Bruins in all three areas on Saturday. Players up and down the roster, from Hunwick, to Blake Wheeler, to Paille, to newly re-signed captain Zdeno Chara, killed chances at offensive opportunities by either squandering the puck or holding onto it too long.
– The power play was unproductive, but when a team gets shut out it’s to be expected that they didn’t produce on the man advantage. At any rate, the team went 0-3 on the power play through the first two periods (they’d later get Nathan Horton’s second goal of the game on a man advantage in the third) and gave up a couple of real scoring opportunities to the shorthanded Coyotes.
The team, as is well documented, was the worst in the league when it came to burying the biscuit (2.39 goals per game), and their power play wasn’t much better. The Bruins finished the season with a 16.6 power play percentage, good for 23rd in the NHL. The additions of Seguin and Horton should improve both categories, but there wasn’t much from the team on the night to suggest it.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS
– These are going to be a bit redundant because Nathan Horton was so clearly the Bruins’ most valuable player for the Bruins on Saturday. Here’s the separate one dedicated just to Horton: He can’t be beat from in front of the net. He missed early on in the game by firing one wide at the gloveside of Ilya Bryzgalov, but beat the Phoenix goaltender with his lethal wrist shot on the next two chances. He tried to downplay the possibility of him being a 40-goal-scorer this year, but he’s the complete package.
– The first line showed what it’s made of. In addition to Milan Lucic’s physicality and David Krejci’s craftiness (he embarrassed Adrian Aucoin early in the third period at the blueline with a move that dropped the defenseman to the ice based on pure confusion), but Nathan Horton was allowed to do what he does best: fire off a wrister from the hashmark. Lucic hit him from behind the net to set up the team’s only goal of the game at 3:33 of the game.
– Gregory Campbell is going to be a difficult player for Bruins fans not to like. Following Horton’s first goal, he gave the Bruins a little more momentum in the third period by dropping the gloves with Coyotes center Vernon Fiddler. He took a bad slashing penalty with less than 10 minutes to go and his team trailing by two, but aside from that he came as advertised — a solid bottom-six forward who despite not having major strengths, has no major weaknesses.
|Bruins react to an honest scare||10.02.10 at 5:53 pm ET|
BELFAST — The Bruins went into Belfast, beat the best squad the Elite League could put together by a four-goal margin (5-1), and Boston fans have two more Tyler Seguin goals to ogle over. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that they didn’t beat the Giants select team as handily as the score might suggest, as the Belfast squad played them very tight through the first period and and half. Though the team reacted to falling behind, 1-0, in the second period by firing off three quick goals and adding two more in the third, they admittedly were given a run for their money on Saturday night.
So what went into the jittery play out of the gate? For starters, the Odyssey Arena crowd — which holds 7,100 people — may have given the TD Garden (17,565) a run for its money when it came to decibles before the game. When the Bruins — scratch that, “Legendary Boston Bruins” — were announced, the place went nuts, and the fans seemed to know their stuff. The biggest cheers went to Zdeno Chara and Mark Recchi, but all of the players were showered with support.
“It was really loud,” Milan Lucic, who scored the Bruins’ fourth goal, said after the game. “I got a little bit of goosebumps there at the start of the game. I’ll be honest, it was a little nerve-racking to start the game.”
And did that carry over once the puck was dropped?
“It kind of looked like we were nervous, too. It almost looked like we were trying to do too much and they were just playing simple and kind of just getting the puck out every chance they got,” he said. “Obviously, they gave us a little scare by scoring that first goal, but I think it was a good finish to that second period and we were able to play more consistent in the third period.”
At the end of the first period, it seemed almost comical that the Bruins could find themselves in such a tight game with an opponent of such a lesser league. The Giants, who got their lone goal in the second period from Jade Galbraith, actually had the two best scoring opportunities of the period.
“They did, for sure,” Tuukka Rask said of the Giants having solid opportunities on him. “Right in front, but you could tell that they didn’t have the patience that maybe the NHL guys would have to hold onto that puck and find the extra corner to put the puck in. They definitely had some chances, and they really deserved them too.”
Once the Bruins got things going — it all started with Seguin and Michael Ryder crashing the net to produce the rookie’s first of the game — there was no looking back. It was clear they were the better team, and even when the Giants outplayed them for stretches early, the clear difference in talent remained apparent. Even so, it seemed to take the Belfast goal being scored to act as the splash of water to the face that the Bruins needed.
“I try to just keep the game tight all the time, and I think the guys woke up after their first goal and realized that we can’t afford to lose this game, because the skill level should be on our side for us to win that game,” Rask said. “They got the first goal, got some energy, but then the skill level came up. We scored three goals in like a minute or so, but give credit to them. They really battled and they wanted to win that game.”
All in all, the Bruins made no lie about what they ended up going against, whether or not they were expecting it. Shawn Thornton, who had two helpers in the game, didn’t see why the Giants wouldn’t have played as well as they did.
“This isn’t taking anything away from them, but a lot of those guys have never had the chance to play in the NHL or get an NHL game, and this is probably as close as they’re going to get, so I knew they’d be giving it all they had,” Thornton said. “I’ve played with a number of those guys, I’ve played against them and I know they character of them. A few years ago I was in the same shoes as them, not thinking I’d ever get a game. When you get a chance to show what you have, you’re definitely going to show what you have.”
Nobody should be surprised with how hard the Giants came out playing on Saturday night. From Claude Julien to every player asked about it in the locker room, the Bruins have said time and time again that they were expecting the best game of the Elite League players’ lives. Even so, it sure was interesting to see it last as long as it did.