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Thomas, Halak are making life tough for shooters

by John Kreiser
What's the toughest thing to do in the NHL right now? Is it getting a puck past Tim Thomas? Or it could be turning on the red light behind Jaroslav Halak?

Who's better? That could be answered (at least for now) Saturday in Boston, where the two could be at opposite ends of the ice when Halak and the Blues come to TD Garden for a game against Thomas and the Bruins.

It's hard to argue with the performance of either goaltender so far

Thomas already has made history by becoming the first Boston goaltender to start the season by going 7-0-0 -- he outdid Tiny Thompson, who started 6-0-0 in 1937-38 before playing to a pair of ties. More amazing is the fact that Thomas didn't even begin the season as the Bruins' No. 1 goaltender. Tuukka Rask took away Thomas' starting job last season and got the opening-day start against Phoenix. But after Rask surrendered four goals in a 5-2 loss, Thomas got the call in Game 2, responded with a 3-0 victory and has spent the next four weeks looking like Jacques Plante, Glenn Hall, Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur rolled into one.

Consider this: Thomas didn't allow as many as two goals in a game until Wednesday, when Buffalo got a pair in Boston's 5-2 victory. The second-period power-play goal by the Sabres' Drew Stafford was the first man-advantage goal allowed by Thomas all season. In all, he's surrendered just five goals -- giving him a goals-against average of 0.72. He's faced 220 shots and stopped 215, a .977 save percentage (Rask led the NHL last season at .931).

Were it not for Thomas, Halak might well be the talk of the NHL.

Halak was a playoff hero for Montreal this past spring, but with Carey Price also in the fold, the Canadiens opted to send Halak to St. Louis. All he's done is go 7-1-1 in his first eight games with the Blues, including 6-0-0 at home, while putting up a 1.53 GAA and a .940 save percentage (14 goals allowed on 232 shots). He's second to Thomas among starting goaltenders in GAA, third in save percentage. The two are even with seven wins and a League-leading three shutouts.

Home cooking -- Perhaps the biggest difference Halak has made to the Blues is their play at home. The Blues are 6-0-0 at Scottrade Center this season, and Halak has been in goal for all six games -- including two shutouts. The Blues needed to win their last six home games last season just to finish at 18-18-5.

The 12 consecutive home wins (including last season) is a franchise record. The 6-0-0 mark at the beginning of the current season leaves the Blues five short of Chicago's record of 11 consecutive home victories at the start of a season, set in 1963-64.

More is better -- If you're an Atlanta Thrashers fan who wants to see your team win, root for the opposition to reach the 50-shot mark.

Florida tied a team record Wednesday by pelting Chris Mason with 55 shots -- but Mason stopped 52 in a 4-3 victory. It's the second time in team history the Thrashers have allowed 55 shots; they won the other instance as well, 3-2 at Boston on Dec. 18, 2001. It's also the second time in as many years that the Thrashers have won despite allowing more than 50 shots -- Ondrej Pavelec made 50 saves in a 3-1 victory at Ottawa on Oct. 31, 2009. Two other Thrashers goaltenders have faced 50 or more shots in a game: Frederic Cassivi beat Ottawa 3-2 on March 23, 2002, in a game that saw the Senators outshoot Atlanta 52-15, and Kari Lehtonen stopped 49 of 50 shots in a 5-1 win against Washington on March 16, 2009.

Singles hitter -- The Minnesota Wild know they can rely on Andrew Brunette for 15-25 goals per season -- and they know he'll get them one at a time, as he did when he scored the game-winner in Tuesday's 1-0 victory against San Jose. The goal was the 104th he's scored in his two hitches with the Wild -- and they've come in a total of 102 games (he's played 418 total games with the Wild). The power-play goal against San Jose marked the 78th consecutive regular-season time he's scored exactly one goal in a game.

Brunette's only two multi-goal games in a Wild jersey came in back-to-back games: He scored twice against Chicago on Oct. 24, 2002, and did it again against Phoenix two nights later. He does have one multi-goal playoff game with the Wild. He scored twice in Game 6 of the Wild's Western Conference semifinal series against the Canucks on May 7, 2003.

His one-at-a-time style only seems to work in Minnesota. Brunette spent three seasons (2005-06 through 2007-08) with Colorado, and during that time he had nine two-goal games and one hat trick while producing 70 goals. He also had a two-goal playoff game, against the Red Wings in Game 3 of their second-round series on April 29, 2008.

At the other end of the spectrum, Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell has 165 career goals -- but owns 18 regular-season multi-goal games, the latest of which came when he scored twice in Monday's 3-2 win against Carolina. His teams have won all 18 of those games.

Please retire -- That's probably the message the Nashville Predators would like to send to Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who looks as good as ever at age 40. Lidstrom always seems to be at his best against the Predators -- his 2 assists in Detroit's 5-2 win against Nashville last Saturday gave him 57 points against the Preds, the most by any player. No. 2 on the list is Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, who had 2 goals and an assist and now has 52 points against Nashville.
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