When Tim Thomas went down with a pulled groin, the Boston Bruins knew they'd miss their star goaltender. Although they persevered without him, they'll be thrilled to get him back.
Boston expects to have Thomas in net for the first time in more than two weeks when it continues its five-game homestand Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Thomas was 10-7-2 with a league-leading .936 save percentage when he injured his groin on Dec. 5 in an overtime loss at New Jersey. The Bruins (18-12-3) acquired veteran Alex Auld, who was struggling in Phoenix with a 3-6-0 record and .880 save percentage, the next day.
Auld has fared better in Boston, going 4-2-0 with a .945 save percentage in six starts. But he has lost two of his past three outings, including Tuesday's 3-2 loss to Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa.
"When the game was over it shows you where we're at," said Boston coach Claude Julien, whose club has dropped two of three after a three-game winning streak. "We still have some work to do."
Despite the excellent goaltending from Thomas and Auld, the Bruins have struggled to kill penalties. They've allowed opponents to score an Eastern Conference-worst 23.7 percent of the time on the power play, and have yielded five man advantage goals in their past five games.
One Bruin playing well on offense lately has been 19-year-old rookie forward Milan Lucic. He had a goal against the Senators, giving him five points in his last five games.
"I saw him this summer at the development camp here and the one thing that I noticed is from the blue line in ... he was very good at scoring goals," Julien said.
Thomas is 2-2-0 with a 3.25 goals-against average in three career starts against Pittsburgh.
Boston has dropped its last two meetings with the Penguins, but had won the previous nine games in the series.
Pittsburgh (16-15-2) won seven of eight games overall starting on Thanksgiving, but has now dropped three of its last four while getting outscored 16-3 and allowing eight power-play goals in the losses.
At New York on Tuesday, the Penguins managed only five shots through the first two periods of a 4-0 defeat - their first shutout loss since Feb. 27.
"You're not going to get anything if your competition level isn't there," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who has been held without a point in four of his last six games after failing to score just twice in Pittsburgh's first 27 games. "I don't think we were ready to compete like we needed to."
Pittsburgh is 2-3 since finding out that starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury would miss six to eight weeks with a sprained ankle.
Backup Dany Sabourin had been 5-4-1 with a 2.34 GAA prior to Fleury's injury but has struggled since, losing three of five while compiling a 3.17 GAA.
Crosby has 12 points in seven career games against the Bruins, while second-year star Evgeni Malkin has scored in each of his four games against Boston, totaling five goals.
These teams will meet again Sunday afternoon at Pittsburgh.