Plus-Minus: Tim Thomas One Bright Spot on a Messy Bruins Squad

by

November 6, 2009

Plus-Minus: Tim Thomas One Bright Spot on a Messy Bruins Squad Welcome to the latest edition of Plus-Minus, where we review the top three positives and negatives of the Bruins? week that was. And what a week it has been for the Black and Gold.

The Bruins' offensive ineptitude seems to have persisted, as they were one minute away from being shut out for the third consecutive game on Thursday. Instead, Patrice Bergeron netted a goal with 56 seconds remaining in an eventual shootout loss to the Canadiens.

Plus
1. Tim Thomas

Despite being 0-3-1 in his last four starts, Thomas has been one of the team?s bright spots through that stretch. Thomas has steadily been returning to the form that earned him the Vezina Trophy last season. In his last four games, Thomas has stopped 100 of 106 shots. He twice allowed just one goal in a game and allowed six goals overall during those four games. He may still have a losing record at 4-6-1, but Thomas has brought his goals-against average down to 2.44 and now has a .916 save percentage.

Thomas is back to utilizing his acrobatic style and agility to his advantage, and while he may not always look like the prototypical NHL goalie, he gets the job done. He?s starting to do that again, and he's giving his team a chance to win.

"The bottom line is, he stops pucks," head coach Claude Julien said. "It is not always the prettiest way, but he stops them."

Defenseman Derek Morris is enjoying playing with and in front of Thomas, a goalie he and his mates on defense can always count on.

"You know, we don?t want to really depend on [his goaltending] or lay back on it because that means we?re not doing our job," Morris said recently. "But we know Timmy will be there for us and come through."

2. Claude Julien
It?s really easy for fans and media to circle around the struggling Bruins like vultures right now. There are plenty of aspects of the Bruins? game to criticize, with the power play and the scoring drought obviously at the forefront. The team?s performance can be attributed to the key injuries they?ve suffered — such as those to Marc Savard, Milan Lucic and David Krejci, who was diagnosed with the H1N1 flu this week. But when fans begin questioning the way the team adapts to these challenges, the head coach often falls into the line of fire.

Following Boston's hard-fought 2-1 shootout loss to the Habs — where the Bruins threw everything but the kitchen sink at Montreal goalie Carey Price but had 42 of their 43 shots turned away — the reigning Jack Adams Award winner showed why he commands respect from so many of the players he has coached.

"Right now, I think, you answer the same questions," Julien said. "Offensively, you can?t complain about your team. We threw 46 shots on net, and it boils down to the inability to finish around the net. But the bottom line is, we are trying. Whether people believe it or not, or like it or not, we are trying.

"I am going to stick behind this group, and I will take whatever heat comes my way, but these guys care and are trying. Right now, it is about trying to work to get confidence so the guys believe in themselves — that they are able to score goals. I know we can, but somehow right now, there is some doubt. Obviously, the confidence level isn?t where it should be, and that is what happens."

As Julien pointed out, no one is going to feel sorry for the Bruins right now.

"We have been through [this] before, a couple years ago," he said. "We went through the same thing, and it was later in the season. Besides the people in the dressing room who care for each other, nobody is really feeling sorry for us, including [the media], I'm sure. We?ll deal with our issues, our dirty laundry, and we?ll go from there. Nobody is feeling sorry for themselves. It is our job to get ourselves out of it. That is where we are at."

This is exactly the attitude and stance this team needs right now. The Bruins are in a very similar situation to the second half of the 2007-08 season, when they had to scrap their way into the playoffs and then forced a Game 7 after falling down 3-1 in their first-round series against Montreal. That is when the character and identity of the 2008-09 Bruins — the team that finished first in the Eastern Conference and came within one game of the conference finals — was built. Question his moves all you want, but right now, Julien is showing why he was the Jack Adams Award winner.

3. Zdeno Chara in front of the net on the power play
Every time the Bruins have tried to park their gargantuan, 6-foot-9, 255-pound captain in front of the opponent's net, it seems to lead to positive things. On Thursday night, with Zdeno Chara creating havoc and blinding Carey Price, the Bruins finally broke a scoring drought of 192:06. Patrice Bergeron slapped a loose puck by Price to help the Bruins force overtime and earn a point.

"It is something that we have always had in the back of our minds," Julien acknowledged after the game. "The thing is, we have to get some shots through. If he is there but shots are not getting through, it?s not much better, either."

Bergeron recognized how much Chara?s presence in front factored into the goal.

"[Chara] was taking on three guys in front, so I was just on the side of the net to get that easy rebound, where I?ll take it," Bergeron said.

Having a guy of Chara?s size in front is like having a Cam Neely-esque effect. It eventually leads to loads of power-play goals and drives the opposing defense crazy — and it keeps goalies in the dark.

But Julien doesn?t feel he has the depth to use Chara in that spot all the time.

"You start running out of players to put in the back end that you feel shouldn?t be there as well," he said. "It is not something that you won?t see, but it is not something right now that we?ve decided to do. With the goaltender out, [we can use Dennis] Wideman and [Derek] Morris, but then you have your second power play, and you want to have somebody that can be a quarterback as well."

Minus
1. The power play/lack of scoring

The power play is easy to call out right now, but it?s just too hard to ignore. The Bruins were 0-for-3 on the power play against Montreal on Thursday night and have now gone six games without a power-play goal. Derek Morris was the last to light the lamp on the man advantage against the Flyers on Oct. 22. The B's are 0-for-19 in their last six games and just 6-for-55 on the season.

While the Bruins do seem to be getting more shots through and seem to be creating chances, they must figure out how to finish.

"Until you score some goals, you can?t say you see too much progress," Julien said. "We just have got to find a way to get our shots through. You have to tip those in, jump on the loose pucks. You have to be able to finish around the net."

Power-play opportunities are derived from the team?s all-around play, and even at full strength, the Bruins have been just as bad, if not worse. They would have become the first Bruins team since 1929 to be shut out in three straight games had Patrice Bergeron not broke that epic scoreless streak on Thursday night. Boston simply cannot finish. It creates chances and outshoots its opponents to no avail, and that needs to change soon if the Bruins plan on making the playoffs.

"It took us pretty much the whole game to get one [goal]," Bergeron said. "The chances were there. But it's still not good enough."

2. Matt Hunwick and Dennis Wideman

Heading into this season, many around the NHL viewed the Bruins' defense as one of the better blue-line groups in the league. One of the main reasons was reigning Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara, but another reason was the puck-moving ability of Boston defensemen as a whole. It was assumed that Hunwick and Wideman would be able to provide the depth the Bruins needed behind the blue line and also on the power play.

But so far, Wideman and Hunwick have not delivered.

Wideman, who has just a goal and an assist in 12 games, is allegedly playing with an injured shoulder, but he did not even look like himself in the preseason. Since injuring himself against the Islanders on Oct. 10, Wideman is on a nine-game scoreless streak and is struggling to make that first outlet pass out of the Bruins' zone, something he had perfected over the last two seasons.

Meanwhile, Hunwick has just four points this season and has not registered a point in his last six games.

Hunwick and Wideman are two of only five players to score a power-play goal this season for the Bruins, thus showing how vital they are to the man advantage. If they can both find their games, the power play might just start clicking.

3. Marco Sturm

When the Bruins traded Phil Kessel, one of the players they were banking on to fill the offensive void was veteran Marco Sturm, who was returning from reconstructive knee surgery. After sitting out since Dec. 18, 2008, it was understood that Sturm would be rusty, but he looked like he was back after he opened the season with two goals and three points in his first three games. But since scoring the lone goal in a 6-1 loss to Anaheim on Oct. 8, Sturm has gone 12 games without lighting the lamp.

Sturm had a three-game assist streak from Oct. 22-29, but the Bruins know they need more goals from the German winger. He has been getting his chances but not finishing, so he has been left off the two power-play units recently. Sturm needs to find the twine soon before the Bruins stop looking at him as a scoring solution. 

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