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Thomas is making Bruins almost unbeatable

by John Kreiser
If it's possible to play any better than Boston's Tim Thomas is playing right now, NHL shooters might want to hang up their sticks.

The 2009 Vezina Trophy winner turned 2010 backup just completed the best month of his career. Thomas began the season backing up Tuukka Rask, but shut out Phoenix in the Bruins' second game of the season and has been almost unbeatable since.

He finished October with back-to-back shutouts of Toronto and Ottawa, giving him the League lead with three. More important, he ended the month with a 6-0-0 record, tying the team mark set by
Tiny Thompson 73 years ago for the fastest start by a goaltender -- and he surrendered only three goals in the six games, giving him a goals-against average of 0.50 and a save percentage of .984.
Thomas' only question as November dawns is simple: What can he do for an encore?

Five up -- Five players who've been hot:

Joe Thornton -- San Jose's captain had as good a two-game stretch as you could want. He scored three times and set up the Sharks' other two goals in a 5-2 win against New Jersey, then rang up three more assists in Saturday's 5-2 victory against Anaheim. Thornton also is a big reason his linemates, Dany Heatley (3-4-7) and Patrick Marleau (2-3-5) had big weeks.

Chris Stewart -- Stewart has wasted no time showing that last season's breakout year was no fluke. He's second in the NHL with 16 points, tied for second with 9 goals and has scored four times in Colorado's last two games -- both victories.

Nicklas Lidstrom
-- Eleven points in nine games would be a terrific start for any defenseman. For a 40-year-old, it's fantastic. Lidstrom has a five-game scoring streak in which he has 1 goal and 7 assists for 8 points.

Nicklas Backstrom -- Washington's No. 1 center and his teammates came out of their offensive funk at Calgary on Saturday. Backstrom finished the week with 3 goals and 3 assists as the Caps won two of three on the road.

Jaroslav Halak -- St. Louis is thrilled with its new goaltender. Halak has won four in a row, including back-to-back shutouts in the middle of that streak, and is 6-1-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average in eight games since coming from Montreal this past summer.

Five down -- Five players who are struggling:

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury probably can’t wait for November to come, because October was awful. He finished the month with a 1-5-0 record, including back-to-back losses last week to Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.

Kris Versteeg -- Toronto had counted on Versteeg to provide an offensive boost. So far, it hasn't happened. Versteeg has gone without a point in Toronto's last seven games and is just 1-1-2 in nine games so far this season.

Travis Zajac -- Zajac had a goal and a pair of assists in New Jersey's first two games. Since then, he's had just a single assist and hasn't put a point on the board in the Devils' last five games.

Dwayne Roloson -- Roloson lost both of his starts this past week (both against Montreal), allowing seven goals in the process, with a save percentage of just .883.

Mike Modano -- No points in eight games is not what the Wings had in mind when they signed Modano this summer. The good thing for the 40-year-old is that Detroit is winning without any production from Modano and his linemates.

Injuries, news and notes -- No team had a tougher week than Colorado, which lost starting goaltender Craig Anderson to a knee injury that will keep him out "indefinitely." The really tough part -- the injury to Anderson’s right knee came in a pre-game warmup drill.

Out -- New Jersey's troubles are getting bigger. The Devils, already off to the second-worst start in franchise history, lost star forward Zach Parise on Saturday with what the team called a lower-body injury. He won't play Monday at Vancouver. Defenseman Matthew Corrente left Wednesday’s game with a broken hand and sat out Friday and Saturday. He'll miss another week or two but won't need surgery. … Chicago’s Marian Hossa, off to an excellent start for the defending Stanley Cup champs, will miss another week or more with an upper-body injury sustained Wednesday. … Penguins star Evgeni Malkin sat out Saturday's game with an apparent lower-body injury sustained Friday.
… Goaltender Jimmy Howard had to sit out Detroit’s games Thursday and Saturday with back spasms. The Red Wings hope he’ll be ready for this week’s Western Canada trip. … Minnesota forward Guillaume Latendresse missed the Wild’s games Thursday and Saturday with a groin injury. Another forward, Antti Miettinen, is out indefinitely with a concussion sustained last Monday. …   Blues defenseman Roman Polak had successful surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right wrist; he could miss three months. … Anaheim forward Dan Sexton is expected to miss another week or two after having surgery to repair a broken nose. The Ducks placed another forward, Matt Beleskey, on IR with a concussion. … Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk will miss about a month with a fractured left forearm suffered last Saturday. … Islanders forward Michael Grabner missed games Friday and Saturday with a sore groin. … Toronto lost forward Colby Armstrong for 4-6 weeks with a finger injury that required surgery. ... Islanders defenseman Milan Jurcina injured his hamstring Friday and didn't play Saturday. … Buffalo's Nathan Gerbe took a shot in the jaw Friday and sat out Saturday's game at Dallas. … Ottawa forward Milan Michalek didn't play Saturday and will be shut down for at least a week due to tendinitis in his surgically repaired knee.

Returning -- Montreal got a big boost on the blue line with the return of defenseman Andrei Markov on Saturday. He’s been out since May with a knee injury that required surgery. … Atlanta recalled goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who fainted on opening night and sustained a concussion. He spent some time on rehab with the AHL Chicago Wolves. … Forward Justin Abdelkader made his season debut for Detroit on Saturday; he started the season on the sidelines with a rib injury and has spent the last week trying to earn a spot in the lineup. … Atlanta defenseman Zach Bogosian returned Friday after missing six games with an injured shoulder. In the same game, Buffalo defenseman Shaone Morrisonn returned after missing six games with a groin injury. … Ottawa center Jason Spezza was back in the lineup Saturday after missing four games with a groin injury.

Still out -- New Jersey placed defenseman Mark Fraser on IR; he broke his hand Oct. 13 and isn’t expected back for at least another two weeks. Fellow defenseman Anton Volchenkov has yet to play since breaking his nose opening night, though he might be ready this week. … Boston GM Peter Chiarelli says he's "encouraged" by center Marc Savard's skate Friday; Savard has yet to play this season due to post-concussion symptoms. … Ottawa goaltender Pascal Leclaire got onto the ice for 20 minutes Friday but still is nowhere near ready to return from a groin injury. … Buffalo forward Jason Pominville failed a neurological test that he needs to pass before he can return from a concussion that has sidelined him since Oct. 11. … Free-agent goaltender Ray Emery hopes to begin skating this week; he hasn't been able to do so since having surgery in February to correct a lack of blood flow to his hip. Emery spent last season with the Flyers. … Minnesota goaltender Josh Harding is scheduled to have knee surgery and may miss the rest of the season. … Chicago defenseman Bryan Campbell began skating last week and could be back soon from a knee injury. … Flyers goalie Michael Leighton is skating again after undergoing back surgery in early October. He hopes to be back by Thanksgiving. … Anaheim rookie defenseman Cam Fowler has missed six games with a broken nose and neck injury. The Ducks had hoped to have him back Saturday, but he wasn't ready.

The week ahead -- Sunday is the only off-day on the NHL schedule that's not related to the Christmas or All-Star breaks, and things don't really heat up until Wednesday, when there are nine games scheduled. Saturday is even busier -- 26 of the 30 teams play in that night’s 13 games.

Games to watch:

Montreal at Columbus (Nov. 2)
-- The Canadiens are spending Election Day by visiting Nationwide Arena, a place they've visited just three times since the Blue Jackets entered the NHL 10 years ago -- and not at all since February 2008, when Columbus won 4-3 in a shootout after losing to the Hans in their first two meetings at home.

New York Rangers at Philadelphia (Nov. 4) -- The Rangers come to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since last April 11, when they lost 2-1 in a shootout that gave the Flyers the final playoff berth in the East and sent the Rangers home for summer vacation.

Tampa Bay at Los Angeles (Nov. 4) -- This could be a battle between the top two picks of the 2008 Entry Draft if L.A.’s Drew Doughty is recovered from a concussion in time to try to shut down the Lightning's Steven Stamkos.

Chicago at Atlanta (Nov. 6) -- Figure on a lot of players renewing acquaintances before the game -- it's the first meeting between the teams since a flurry of deals sent a number of Cup-winning Hawks to Atlanta during the summer.

Edmonton at Chicago (Nov. 7) -- The Oilers are back at the United Center just nine days after embarrassing the defending Stanley Cup champions with a 7-4 victory Oct. 29.

Tough week ahead:

Detroit Red Wings
-- One of the perils of being in the Western Conference is knowing you'll have to make a couple of swings through Western Canada. For the Wings, the first one comes this week -- they visit Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver in a four-day span.

Pittsburgh Penguins -- The Pens have been spending a lot of time on the road in the past couple of weeks, and this week's trip -- coming on the heels of Saturday's visit to Carolina -- doesn’t look like much fun. They visit Dallas, Anaheim and Phoenix in a four-night span.

Tampa Bay Lightning -- The Bolts started a Western swing at Phoenix on Saturday; this week, they continue their trip by visiting all three of the California teams in a span of four nights.

Easy week ahead:

Anaheim Ducks -- Both Southern California teams get to spend the week at home, with the Ducks playing three times against teams that are a long way from home -- Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh are paying rare visits to the Honda Center, and Nashville comes to town Sunday after playing in L.A. the night before.

Colorado Avalanche -- The Avs came home Saturday after a road trip and get a chance to catch their breath this week. They play only twice, hosting Vancouver on Thursday after a four-day break and before Dallas comes to town two nights later.

Los Angeles Kings -- The Kings actually have a couple of easy weeks. They get four days off before hosting Tampa Bay on Thursday and Nashville on Saturday, then have another two-gamer at home the following week.
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