The 2010-11 season is already full of intriguing story lines, but at the quarter mark of the campaign, standout performances by goaltenders certainly deserve top billing. This week, NHL.com focuses on some of those goalies in the spotlight, from the amazing first impression of Philadelphia's Sergei Bobrovsky and Washington's Michal Neuvirth to the redemptions of Montreal's Carey Price and Boston's Tim Thomas and the continued stellar play of Detroit's Jimmy Howard.
Claude Julien sees the difference in Tim Thomas' game. He sees the Bruins goalie attacking more, challenging the shooter.
"He's played more like he did a couple of years ago," the Bruins' coach said.
Thomas feels the difference in his game. The nagging hip injury that bothered him last season is gone and he's free to flail and flop around his crease in the way only he can.
"That's my style," the goalie said.
And with the puck requiring the world's greatest GPS to find the back of the Bruins' net, Boston's opponents have figured out that the old goalie, 36 now and coming off a forgettable 2009-10 season, still has plenty of life left in his game -- enough to create the most fabulous of goalie controversies in Beantown.
Tuukka Rask, 23, established himself as a No. 1 goalie in the NHL last season when he won 22 games with a 1.97 goals-against average. Rask was thrust into action mostly because Thomas wasn't good enough to preserve his No. 1 status after winning the Vezina Trophy just one season earlier.
With Thomas having won all four of his starts this season in resounding fashion (0.75 GAA, .978 save percentage), and Rask losing both of his, Julien admits the debate over the decision he has to make on who will start on a nightly basis has become rather interesting.
He's chosen Thomas for Thursday's game against Toronto. It'll be his fifth start in seven games this season.
"There is a goaltender in Tim Thomas, who is 36 years old, and he wants to finish his career on a good note, but also win a championship more than anything else. He'll do whatever it takes to accomplish that," Julien said. "You have a young goaltender (Rask) who has lots of time to keep growing and getting better and better, and he has lots of time to learn as he moves on here with another good goaltender. That competition that is within is great. It keeps both goaltenders sharp.
"I can't mention enough positives. Most people think it's a negative situation, but it's not."
It's not, because Thomas and Rask are saying and doing all the right things. Julien doesn't let either player know who is starting until they arrive at the arena for the game-day skate, and not knowing keeps the competition going between the goalies.
"Pretty much the only thing you can do is try to stop every puck in practice and be ready when it's your turn," Rask, who is 0-2 with a 3.53 GAA and .894 save percentage, told NHL.com. "You don't want to worry about it because if you start thinking about it it'll turn against you. You have to try to find it and be at your best when it's your turn to play."
"I just come and if I told I get the nod than I'm happy," said Thomas. "There is work for both of us and I just want to do the best that I can so I can earn as much of that work that I can."
Thomas is the one who has made this a competition because this past summer he diligently went through a long and grueling process of rehabilitating his hip.
He said he first knew of the injury after the 2007-08 season, when he went to a yoga therapist and her first evaluation of him suggested there was a problem. She put him on a program to strengthen the area and increase his flexibility, and "probably that's what helped me play well enough to win a Vezina (in 2009)."
Thomas aggravated the injury in his first game back from the Olympics last season when he did the splits trying to stop Toronto forward Phil Kessel on a breakaway. It wore on him for the rest of the season, enough that he knew he had to take serious action over the summer. Surgery, however, was not an option.
"I was doing three sets of workouts a day, so it was wearing me out, but in a good way," Thomas said. "It was something that I needed to do. I was rehabbing the hip, but that was pretty much all I could do is rehab the hip. I couldn't work on my upper body very often, but as a goalie do I really need to? I couldn't do the running. It definitely changed my typical summer activities."
So far, the Bruins are benefitting from Thomas' work. They've outscored the Coyotes, Devils and Capitals (twice), 14-3, in Thomas' four starts, with the goaltender stopping 133 of the 136 shots he's faced. The Bruins lost to Phoenix and the Rangers by a combined 8-4 with Rask in the net.
"He looks really good," Rask said of Thomas. "He doesn't have any holes in him. He looks really tightly packed there. He's reading the pass and it looks really simple -- that's what he wants. It's good that he's healthy and back on the level where he knows he can be."
"He's playing just like two years ago and it's good to have him back there," added center David Krejci. "He's a great goalie and he's kept us in the game so many times so far."
Does that mean Thomas is the No. 1 in Boston again? If he is, can Julien keep Rask in the bullpen without the situation turning ugly?
"We'll make room for both of them to play," Julien said. "The schedule is going to get a little more condensed as we move on here (14 games per month through January). It hasn't really been an issue. Until it becomes an issue with them it's certainly not going to be an issue with us, and right now they seem very supportive of each other."
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