When the Penguins recalled forward Bill Thomas from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Jan. 26, Pittsburgh head coach Michel Therrien sat down with the Fox Chapel native. Therrien’s message was clear.
“It was play hard, penalty kill, work hard and be on the fourth line,” Thomas said. “Do the little things right and bring a lot of energy. I knew what my role was and tried to do that the best I can.”
Thomas was given a hefty responsibility in Pittsburgh’s showdown with the San Jose Sharks last Wednesday. Thomas, Jordan Staal
and Miroslav Satan were given the arduous task of defending the Sharks’ top line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Devin Setoguchi.
The Penguins’ tandem shutdown the Thornton line, holding them scoreless and limiting the offensively dangerous combination to a mere six shots while the Penguins skated to a 2-1 shootout victory.
“We gave them a defensive role,” Therrien said. “In the meantime they were able to create some offense. That was a big plus. Billy was able to skate really well. He made some good plays. You have to play well defensively and you have to play well offensively as well. We need contribution from everyone and that was a true example.”
The Penguins’ designated defensive line contributed to the offense by scoring the team's only goal. Satan picked up the puck in the Penguins zone and skated it out of danger. He carried the puck through the neutral zone and flipped it ahead into the San Jose zone.
Thomas collected the bouncing puck but by the time it was settled, the Pittsburgh native found himself behind the Sharks net. Thomas tried to make a centering pass to Staal in front of the net but the puck deflected off of San Jose defenseman Rob Blake’s stick and between the legs of goalie Brian Boucher.
It was Thomas’ first goal as a Penguin and it brought the sell out crowd of 17,034 to their feet.
“It’s one of those things you want,” he said. “You score a goal here for the team. This is where I grew up. It’s one of those things you keep as a memory.”
So, where is the puck?
“It was Staal’s 100th point too so we’ll probably have to give it to him,” Thomas said. “It’s a little more important. I’ve already scored (in the NHL).”
Thomas’ parents, who had attended every game at Mellon Arena since their son’s call up until Wednesday. They skipped their first game against the Sharks and as fate would have it, they did not see their son get his first goal for the team he grew up admiring.
“My parents stayed home,” Thomas said. “It was a weekday. They didn’t want to fight the traffic coming into town. They were at all the other games since I’ve been called up. They said they were going to take this one off. My mom got a new TV so she wanted to try it out.”
Thus the Thomas family watched their son net his first goal of the season, record five shots and log nearly 20 minutes of ice time.
“He’s playing the wing a little bit,” Ryan Whitney said. “He takes big draws in the defensive zone for us. He’s come up here and done a great job. He’s playing a really defensive role and he got a goal, which was great for him – especially home in Pittsburgh. We’re glad to have him here and he’s played great.”
The Penguins will rely more on Thomas as the season progresses.
“He’s getting more and more comfortable when he gets a chance to be out there and be confident,” Max Talbot said. “It’s huge. He stepped up his game. It’s great to see and even this morning in the practice he’s still on that high. That’s how we need to be, as a team and as individuals. We need to be confident. We need to be loose. He definitely was a good example of that.”