Thomas enters 'the zone' in shutout of Habs


Thomas enters 'the zone' in shutout of Habs

MONTREAL Over the last couple of games Tim Thomas has given a firm reminder to any absent-minded hockey followers just how good he can be.

The Bruins goaltender has backstopped the Bruins to a pair of shutouts in his last two games, and stole his first game of the season when he made 32 saves against the Canadiens in a 1-0 victory for the Bruins at the Bell Centre.

Thomas was good throughout, but at his best in the third period when he stopped 14 shots and became Bostons best penalty killer amid a flurry of Habs power-play chances. Guys named Cammalleri, Gionta and Pacioretty were buzzing around all around him, but they were no match for the flawless Bs goaltender.

We played on our heels tonight a little bit, said Claude Julien after watching his Bruins get out-shot by a 32-18 margin. But defensively we werent that bad and Tim Thomas was huge for us making big saves.

It capped off 133:04 of consecutive scoreless ice time for Thomas dating back to a week ago in the third period of a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils. Guess hes still got it at 37 years old, eh?

Many of us have played with him for quite a few years now, and you get into that rhythm with Thomas where hes stopping pucks and you know where he likes to see the shots from, said Andrew Ference. He looks like hes in that rhythm right now.

There werent any Superman saves with Thomas flying across the crease like a masked superhero, but the 37-year-old was tracking the puck with uncanny precision while plenty of action popped up in front of him.

Thomas was at his best when Montreal sniper Mike Cammalleri tried to find an opening in the third period with the Habs down by just a goal. Thomas stood tall when Scott Gomez attempted to throw a puck into his skates during the first of Benoit Pouliots ill-advised penalties, and he calmly kicked away a Gomez tip of a Cammalleri bomb from the right point.

In the final minute of the third period Thomas swallowed up an Erik Cole shot flipped from the middle slot off a Brian Gionta pass with Max Pacioretty crashing to the front of the net. There was a little bit of luck involved too as Thomas kicked away a bouncing puck in the final seconds with Pacioretty camped out in front of the crease, but unable to control the loose biscuit.

It was all part of Thomas master plan as there were some tough saves sprinkled into his nights work, but he wasnt going to let the Habs see him sweat under his Movember mustache mask. Thomas said after the game hes feeling as good as he has all season, and it looks like hes entering The Zone into which very few goaltenders are allowed admittance.

The Bs goaltender is still fully capable of carrying his hockey club for a stretch at 37 years old, and hes got an offense thats going to get him some ultra-comfortable nights in between the tight, one-goal games.

There were a few through screens that I made look easier than they were, but that was the impression I was trying to give off to Montreal, said Thomas. I wanted to make them feel like they werent close to scoring and it really worked out.

A couple of them ended up in my glove and there was a quick whistle where sometimes they bounce out and it gets a little scrambly. That can get the other team hungry because they feel like theyre close to scoring, but that didnt happen tonight.

With the 32-save shutout in the books, Thomas leads the NHL with three shutouts (hes tied with Jimmy Howard, Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick) and sits second with a 1.77 goals against average and third in the league with a .938 save percentage. He looks every bit like the goaltender that captured the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup for only the second time in NHL history last season, and has only the immortal Brian Elliott and Josh Harding sitting in front of him in the traditional goaltending stat categories.

Its likely that the Habs are sick of seeing this movie with Thomas shutting down a flying Montreal attack and handing the Bruins a victory when players like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand arent up to their normal capabilities. Its the movie that played all last spring to rave reviews in Boston, and it looks there might just be a sequel in the works for Thomas and Co. in Black and Gold.

Bruins looking to avoid anxious moments on home ice

Bruins looking to avoid anxious moments on home ice

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins will have plenty of proud history on display for tonight’s home opener when Bobby Orr and Milt Schmidt drop the ceremonial first puck at TD Garden prior to the game against the New Jersey Devils.

Orr is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first NHL game, and the amazing Schmidt is there for the 80th anniversary of his rookie NHL season, and it will be up to the current crop of B’s players afterward to play up to the standards of those two Hall of Fame legends. That was a difficult challenge for the Black and Gold last season as they struggled to a 17-18-6 record on home ice and experienced some of their worst regular-season efforts in front of the paying home customers.

When placed side-by-side with a road record (25-13-3), where only the Sharks and Capitals had more victories on the road last season, it was clear the B’s had some strange motivational issues at the Garden. Whether it was leadership, maturity or the coach to blame for their home malaise, the Bruins are looking to reverse that trend this season after an encouraging 2-1 start on the first three-game road trip of the season.

In fact, Brad Marchand didn’t even want to entertain thoughts about last year’s home ice funk.

“Last year has nothing to do with this year. We’ve got a lot of new guys and a lot of new faces, and we’re looking to have a big start at home and have a big year. We want to try and start that tonight,” said Brad Marchand. “We don’t have to get anxious and too excited. We play a good road game and if we play the same way at home as we do on the road then hopefully we’ll be okay.”

The home ice anxiousness was clear on many occasions for the Bruins whether it was getting blown out at the Winter Classic, getting smoked in Milan Lucic’s return to the Garden with the LA Kings or epically blowing the final game of the season vs. Ottawa with the playoffs on the line. It will be interesting to see what a big personality and hardened, vocal leader David Backes can bring to combat some of the home ice skittishness of last season. 

One other thing the Bruins will be looking to change: allowing the other team to score the first goal, as they’ve done in all three games to start this season. It could perhaps be excused with the B’s playing the polite visitor at the emotional home openers for  the Blue Jackets and the Maple Leafs last week, but now it’s their turn to jack up the emotional level and make TD Garden a much more difficult place to play than it was for the majority of last season. 


Slow-starting Krejci looking for a spark in Bruins’ home opener

Slow-starting Krejci looking for a spark in Bruins’ home opener

BRIGHTON, Mass. – David Krejci hasn’t exactly been his usual self in the opening three games of the season for the Bruins and there are understandable, underlying reasons for that. 

One of them is that the 30-year-old playmaking center is coming off major offseason hip surgery and that’s made him look less than his silky-smooth best with the puck in the season’s first three games.

The good news is Krejci doesn’t believe any lingering hip problems have been a big factor at all, and instead his comfort level is increasing each time he takes the ice.

“I feel better and better every day. This is a tough injury, but I’m in good shape and in really good hands. The doctors have done a really good job with me every day, and it’s been really good,” said Krejci, who has one assist in the opening three games with just three shots on net while fighting to hang onto the puck. “It’s been fun to be out there with the guys, and I’m just trying to get better every day.”

A more reasonable explanation for Krejci’s sluggish start was the last-second injury to Patrice Bergeron prior to the start of the season and the major alteration to his forward line as a result of No. 37’s absence. David Backes was pulled from the right wing spot on the Krejci line to fill in for Bergeron over the season’s first three games and he came away with two goals and three points in three games centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

But the B’s second line was almost non-existent with smaller, skilled wingers on either side of Krejci that weren’t able to generate anything productive with No. 46. The B’s obviously have massive production from the top line in Bergeron’s absence and have found a respectable fourth line that can get the job done for Claude Julien. Even the third line has found some footing after the B’s bench boss replaced rookie Austin Czarnik with veteran Riley Nash and instead went with a bigger, tougher power line with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes on the wings.

Now, Backes goes back to his rightful spot on the wing with Krejci and 21-year-old rookie Danton Heinen looks to replace a scuffling Ryan Spooner at left wing for tonight’s home opener vs. the New Jersey Devils. Backes is ready to bring some needed balance to the forward lines after the B’s top line really carried them over the first three games of the season and produced a team-high four goals for David Pastrnak.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Backes also knows that he’s exactly the kind of strong, determined net-front presence with goal-scoring ability that Krejci has always produced with over the course of his 10-year NHL career.

“I won’t be involved in the immediate face-off, but [I will be involved] in helping him on the 50/50 draws to win the puck back. Just talk all over the ice like we have been with Heinen on the wing he’s got two veteran guys with him, and we need to make him feel comfortable to be a very productive member [of the line],” said Backes. “We’ll get back to cooking a little bit with how we were looking before I was forced to play center.

“I think it puts the other teams in a predicament with that they’re going to try to defend if we have a couple-pronged attack. It’s a kind of pick-your-poison kind of deal. A checking line can typically do a good job of neutralizing a line, but when you have multiple options and multiple guns pointed at them it’s a little bit more of a predicament for them. When we’re healthy, we’re going to have that.”

So, the hope is that having a power forward, play-finisher like Backes is going to allow him time and space to create plays that have a little more hope of being turned into scoring chances at the offensive end of the ice.

“When injuries happen you’ve got to balance the team and that’s what happened. But I’m happy [Backes] is back on our line,” said Krejci, who has always been at his best while utilizing big, strong wingers on his line whether it was Milan Lucic or Nathan Horton over the years. “Hopefully we can get the chemistry early on as a line, and help the team to win.

“[Backes] is a right-handed shot, so that’s nice to have.  I had two lefties there [in Spooner and Heinen] and sometimes it’s tough to get a good pass on the backhand. He’s been playing well the first two games, so hopefully I can keep up and we can get some chemistry to help the team win.”

So, it remains to be seen how long it will take Krejci to find his offensive mojo while centering a line combo of Heinen-Krejci-Backes that didn’t get much of a look in the preseason, but the sooner, the better for a Bruins team that needs to start firing on all offensive cylinders while still working through their defensive challenges.