Maybe it doesn’t matter how much mobility and speed the Bruins have on their back end.
As long as Tim Thomas is playing like the second coming of Frank “Mr. Zero” Brimsek, the Bruins won’t have to worry about how much time they spend in their own zone.
Or at least, it seems that’s the case a little more than a quarter through this 2010-11 season. Thomas was at it again tonight in Philadelphia, with 41 saves – many of the acrobatic variety – in his fifth shutout of the season.
At this rate, the 36-year-old is going to spark a medical investigation into what exactly the surgeon did to repair his aching hip over the summer. Players, never mind goaltenders, aren’t supposed to have a career-year four years shy of 40 coming off surgery to repair such a vital body part.
But here we are at the start of December and Thomas has already matched his career-high for shutouts (Brimsek’s single-season best was 10) and is almost halfway to the Bruins’ record in the forward-passing era of 11 set by Cecil “Tiny” Thompson in 1932-33. The Bruins’ record is 15 held by Hal Winkler in the days before forward passing was allowed in the offensive zone.
Thomas made 16 of those 41 saves during a second period that made him busier than a Target cashier on Black Friday. First, he robbed Daniel Briere on a point-blank opportunity right in front of the net after a Zdeno Chara turnover. Later in the middle stanza he made a miraculous save on a Jeff Carter tip from the top of the blue paint and then denied Scott Hartnell on a penalty shot. The save on Hartnell added insult to injury, as moments before Thomas had taught the Flyers forward a lesson about poking at the puck after a whistle with a swipe to Hartnell’s face.
Before the period ended, Thomas extinguished a 2-on-1 by striding a few feet from the crease to stop Andreas Nodl’s one-timer from near the high slot.
One had to wonder what the Flyers were thinking as shot after shot got no farther than Thomas’ limbs and equipment. Certainly, they’ve been pleased with the goaltending they’ve received from rookie Sergei Bobrovsky this season. But they couldn’t possibly have predicted Bobrovsky’s ascent to the No. 1 job over the summer, when everyone with eyes knew they needed to upgrade their netminding situation from the Michael Leighton-Brian Boucher combination that carried them to last summer’s Stanley Cup final.
It would’ve been a tight squeeze against the salary cap and required some maneuvering, but the Flyers could’ve made an effort to acquire Thomas. Instead they stood pat, and Thomas made them pay in fine fashion in the first Bruins-Flyers tilt of this season.
In the aftermath of the Matt Hunwick trade, the Bruins knew they were going to have to move the puck better and quicker. Early on tonight, the defensemen got the necessary aid from the forwards in the transition game and it turned into two goals. However, as the night wore on, the likes of Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference couldn’t escape the Flyers’ forecheck and all the help in the world from the forwards wouldn’t have helped.
Boston’s back-end struggles led to a heavier workload for Thomas, but he was up to the task all evening. If the volume and quality of shots keep up at tonight’s level, Thomas might need repairs on his other hip and a lot of other parts before the season’s out. Even with second-year youngster Tuukka Rask around to spell the veteran, Thomas can’t be expected to survive a regular dose of so many shots. The Bruins will have to tighten that up moving forward, with their current personnel or after an upgrade.
Meanwhile, Thomas, who already snapped one of Thompson’s records with his 8-0-0 start to the campaign, will continue to chase the Hall-of-Fame netminder and all of Boston’s goaltending records in his potential second Vezina Trophy-winning season in three years.