Hot start for Thomas continues with shutout
What if this isn’t a hot streak? A case of a goalie being in the zone? What if Tim Thomas is just this good?
After four straight starts, Thomas took a breather last Saturday when the Rangers recorded a 3-2 win at TD Garden. Last night, Thomas was back in his net. And for the second time in five appearances, he was flawless.
Thomas, winner of five straight, is on the longest winning streak to open a season for the Bruins since Tiny Thompson went 6-0-0 to kick off 1937-38. Last night’s 2-0 decision over the Maple Leafs before 17,565 was Thomas’s 19th career shutout.
“He was as solid as could be,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “Tuukka [Rask] had played the game before. So you say, ‘He skipped a game there. Let’s see how he comes out tonight.’ He came out the same way he’d been when he played his last game. It’s great to see him do that. When you’ve got a goaltender playing that well, it certainly gives you a great chance to win hockey games. In the first period, maybe we were not as good as we would have liked. But a guy like him keeps you in the game.’’
Thomas’s numbers are outrageous. He is 5-0-0 with a 0.60 goals-against average and a .981 save percentage. Of the 156 pucks that have come his way this season, only three have found their way to the back of the net.
“Thomas has only given up three goals in five games,’’ said Toronto coach Ron Wilson. “He’s on top of things.’’
While such statistics would be improbable for Thomas to sustain, he’s giving no indications that his performance is due for a dip. He’s tracking pucks perfectly. He’s been as aggressive as a pit bull, challenging shots and cutting down angles. Then when things get hairy, Thomas has been at his acrobatic finest.
“I’m proud of the whole work,’’ Thomas said of his game. “No one thing stands out.’’
To top things off, Thomas has benefited from a team that continues to play stout defensively.
Last night, Zdeno Chara was his shutdown self (26:52 of ice time), limiting Phil Kessel to six less-than-lethal shots. Dennis Seidenberg (22:48, six blocked shots, five hits) played perhaps his sharpest game of the season. Even Adam McQuaid, making his season debut in place of injured Johnny Boychuk, chipped in with 13:55 of solid, hard-nosed play.
As a result, Thomas only had to make a season-low 20 stops.
“I thought Dennis played much better tonight,’’ said Julien. “When I say much better, it’s more his game that we’re used to seeing. So obviously he’s turning the corner. Our whole D played pretty well. If anything, McQuaid deserves a lot of credit for the way he played. I thought he played an outstanding game. He was solid defensively. He was up the ice, supporting the attack, getting pucks in. I thought he had a great game. That’s rewarding for a guy working hard after practice to stay on top of his game.’’
In the first period, when the Leafs were bringing the most pressure and the Bruins were making unforced errors, Thomas turned aside eight shots. Even when Thomas was on his back, he was able to stop shots, as he did at 9:42 when he slammed his blocker down on a loose puck that had bounced off several bodies.
By keeping his net clear, Thomas allowed the Bruins to take a one-goal lead into the first intermission.
At 19:19, Patrice Bergeron scorched a one-timer over Jonas Gustavsson (30 saves) for a 1-0 lead.
Then in the second, Tyler Seguin padded the advantage. Seidenberg, from the right point, spotted Seguin at the left circle. Seguin created a passing lane for Seidenberg by backing toward the boards, opening up for a shot. After Seidenberg’s pass arrived, Seguin wasted little time snapping the puck off his stick and winging a shot past Gustavsson at 12:26. It was Seguin’s second goal.
“I was happy to see him score that goal,’’ said Julien, who informed Seguin after the game he would not be returning to junior hockey. “He’s a good player. He didn’t have a ton of ice [time]. We spent a lot of time killing penalties tonight. We had some tough calls. That pushes him out of the game a little bit. What I like about it is that whenever he’s out there, he responds well.’’
Like it’s been so far this season, two goals were enough for Thomas. Right now, it’s hard to see how a team can put multiple pucks, to say nothing of one, behind Thomas in 60 minutes. When a goalie is playing this well, his teammates feel a little bigger and tougher.
“It gives the team a lot of confidence when we’re playing in front of him,’’ McQuaid said. “He’s been there to bail us out when we needed him. That’s what you have to have from your goaltender.’’