Thomas, who is usually front and center right after every game, win or lose, was uncharacteristically nowhere to be found. While the Bruins lost a game they seemed to have within their grasp, blowing a 1-0 lead after two periods, Thomas had nothing to hide from. After all, he was one of the few bright spots, making 35 saves, and with the exception of losing track of tricky shot by Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, positioned him and his team to have a chance to win.
Finally, one of the Bruins' staff members told the media that Thomas wouldn't be speaking. Yet just as the horde of waiting reporters began to head toward the dressing room exit, out came Thomas waving them back and saying he would talk. No reason was given for the wait, but Thomas wanted to discuss the game just as he does every game and basically anytime he's requested for an interview.
"That's my job," he said. "Sorry for the delay."
As he stood there addressing the media scrum around him, he acknowledged that he isn't where he needs to be at this point in the season and that right now he is battling to get back into the form that earned him the Vezina Trophy last season. Thomas said he is taking a day-by-day approach, trying to not get too high or too low.
"I'm just trying to build every day, and trying to get a lot better every day," Thomas said. "I'm trying to get back to the level I was at last season. So that's just my focus on a day-to-day basis."
Thomas wasn't where he wanted to be on Saturday night, seemingly having trouble controlling rebounds and finding the puck while allowing three goals on 19 shots in a 3-2 loss to the Islanders. But on Monday night, he looked to be in control until the Timonen goal. The puck appeared to deflect off the stick of teammate Blake Wheeler before it hit twine behind Thomas — but he wasn't making excuses. There was no whining about a bad break. Instead, there was just an admission that he needs to see the puck better.
"It was a shot, a deflection and I picked it up late," said Thomas. "From that far away you'd like to be able to find it and get it, but I wasn't able to."
Thomas is now 0-2-1 since making 39 saves in a 4-1 win over the Lightning on Dec. 2. Before the loss to the Islanders, Thomas was shelled and yanked after allowing five goals in two periods of a 5-1 loss at Montreal. Tuukka Rask, who has looked more Vezina-like than Thomas this season, started the next two games, both against Toronto, and won both. Rask is 9-2-2 this season, and his goals-against average of 1.97 ranks second in the NHL behind Buffalo's Ryan Miller (1.88). Rask's .932 save percentage also ranks second in the league, right behind Miller's .937.
Meanwhile, Thomas has stumbled to a 7-8-4 record with a respectable 2.48 GAA and a .914 save percentage. But he knows there could be more wins, and so does head coach Claude Julien. The coach, however, is also clearly pulling for Thomas to find his game, as evidenced by the decision to start Thomas again right after a tough outing on Long Island.
"It's not the last couple of games, I think it's from the start of the season," Julien said. "He started behind the eight ball. He needs to battle through that stuff. He had that injury that held him off for two and a half weeks, so right now it's about Tim willing to do some extra work.
"We've got [goaltending coach] Bobby Essensa in here this week to keep working with him, and hopefully to get his game to where we all know it can be."
Julien, always respectful of his players' private lives and tight-lipped on injuries, never mentioned what "stuff" Thomas has been battling through, but Thomas did acknowledge earlier this season that he was dealing with a family illness. But just as he took on that challenge, he is ready to face the challenges on the ice and get back to being the goalie that stole so many games for this team over the last two seasons.
Thomas isn't making excuses, even though anyone would understand if he was a bit distracted from real-life matters and frustrated by these tough breaks lately. Instead, he's facing the music even when the team gives him an opportunity not to.
"That's the challenge, isn't it?" he said when asked how he puts another frustrating loss behind him. "Not to let that set you back and just keep moving forward and try to get better every day."
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