As a veteran goaltender, Jocelyn Thibault has seen his fair share of rivalries in the NHL.
Tonight he will experience one he has yet to encounter, as he suits up for his first start for Buffalo against the division-rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It is really exciting” Thibault said. ”I look forward to it. I don’t want to put myself under any extra pressure. I just want to go out there and enjoy the game, enjoy the moment and hopefully I’ll help the team win a game.”
Thibault signed with Buffalo as a free agent this summer after two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Playing in 22 games last season as a back-up goaltender to Marc-Andre Fleury, Thibault finished with a 2.83 goals-against average and a 7-8-2 record.
“Last year was kind of new to me to [go] a long couple weeks without [playing]. I used to play like 60 games a year,” Thibault said. “In practice you have to do every drill like it’s a game…you can’t relax out there…you have to really work hard at it and that’s how you can stay sharp.”
Thibault will need to keep his focus against the Maple Leafs. With 22 goals scored this season, Toronto is tied with Ottawa for the most goals scored in the NHL.
“They are very powerful offensively and we have to respect that,” Thibault said of Toronto. “I think it’s going to be a tough battle for us tonight and if we want to beat them we are going to have to bring our ‘A’ game.”
Lindy Ruff feels confident in Thibault’s play.
“I think his work ethic is really good. He’s the guy in practice that will stay the extra time or work with the younger players,” Ruff said. “He works extra hard to stay ready. I think that comes with experience and with the number of games that he’s played. His preparation is very good.”
Some of that preparation has come in the three exhibition games Thibault played with the Sabres in preseason.
“It helps when you’re in a game,” Thibault said. “You kind of work on trying to get in sync with your defensemen as far as playing the puck and where they are going to be on the fore check… We are an experienced group of guys and I think we will be able to pull it off.”
In addition to playing for Pittsburgh, Thibault has played for three other franchises, including the Nordiques/Avalanche, Canadiens and Blackhawks. As part of these teams, he has also seen some of the most heated rivalries in sports.
“I’ve watched some games over the past couple years between Toronto and Buffalo and all the guys said it’s going to be exciting,” Thibault said. “I’m kind of fortunate because I’ve kind of gone through this with the previous teams I’ve played for.”
“Playing in Chicago, there were as many Detroit fans as there were Blackhawks fans,” Thibault said, although adding that the Quebec and Montreal rivalry was just as heated.
“I always look forward to those types of games,” he said.