Defense Lets Down Tim Thomas, Bruins in Loss to Sabres

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March 30, 2010

Defense Lets Down Tim Thomas, Bruins in Loss to Sabres There is no denying that Tim Thomas had another rough outing and deserved to be pulled in favor of Tuukka Rask on Monday night.

Thomas should have stopped the Tim Kennedy shot that trickled through the five-hole for the Sabres' third goal. He probably wouldn't mind having back the second goal of the night, which came after a misplayed rebound by both him and defenseman Dennis Wideman that Paul Gaustad banged home in the first period.

But while Thomas was pulled for the sixth time this season, head coach Claude Julien probably would've pulled most of his blue line out of the game if the Providence Bruins defense could have hopped a supersonic train up to the TD Garden during the first intermission.

"I think that first goal was one of those where we lost a battle on one side of the ice, and when the puck was rimmed on the other side, it got through our forwards and they got a shot through [and] the puck had eyes," said Julien. "It went underneath Wideman's arm and I think Timmy was partially screened as well."

When asked if the sloppy play and failure
by his defense to clear pucks out in front or break out of their zone
smoothly played a major role in the loss,  Julien responded, "At times, yeah."

That response is going a bit easy on the defense.

Thomas probably shouldn't have poked that rebound of Myers' shot out to Wideman, who subsequently whiffed on his clearing attempt. Wideman, however, needs to be held accountable on the play as well. The struggling defenseman, who finished with a minus-3 on the game and is now a minus-16 on the season, was not available for comment after the loss.

But Thomas was. While he admitted his individual faults in the loss, he was clearly frustrated at that play and the up-and-down season he and his defense have had. Thomas,  who got pulled after allowing three goals on 14 shots, rushed down the runway after he was pulled and lost his cool before taking a seat on the bench.

"Yeah, I was in the hallway," he admitted after the game. "You get angry, you got to take a few minutes to settle down."

When asked if his frustration had reached a level he has never experienced as a pro, he replied, "Yeah, for sure."

When asked to explain what got him to this point, and he snapped, "You figure out."

And the his postgame media session was abruptly over.

It is clear the 2008-09 Vezina Trophy winner has reached a boiling point. Down in the Buffalo dressing room, his Team USA teammate, Olympic MVP Ryan Miller, who made 40 saves for his 38th win, felt for Thomas.

"You don't like to see it," Miller said of Thomas. "We are competitive to a certain degree. I know he is a little frustrated, but I don't know if there was a whole lot he could do on at least two of those goals. I think if you asked him about the second one, he would want to control the rebound differently. Again I think that was Tyler [Myers] making a hard shot cross-body. Tyler has a hard shot. He's a big kid. Knocking down one of his wrist shots is about all you can do."

Miller, while completely understanding the fans' booing of Thomas, still didn't like to see that happening to his friend.

"I think it is unfortunate," Miller said. "It has been a tough season, and fans in this town are tough. It's the same as it is in Buffalo. We have had some tough seasons, and I have left the ice under duress a few times. It is part of being a goaltender. You are not always going to have things go your way. You have to hang with it and be a good teammate. I know Timmy is doing the right stuff. He is a battler and it is just not going the way he wants it to right now."

Last season, the blue line was a strong point. This season, they are clearly not skating up to par. Although they traded away Aaron Ward and let Shane Hnidy and Steve Montador walk via free agency in the offseason, they brought in Derek Morris, and the young core of Wideman, Mark Stuart, Johnny Boychuk and Matt Hunwick, as well as veteran Andrew Ference and captain Zdeno Chara was still in place. But they clearly missed Ward's steady presence next to Chara and the leadership both he and Hnidy brought.

"Those guys did a lot more than people realize or give them credit for," an NHL scout told NESN.com on Monday night. "This is not the defense they thought they had, I'll tell you that. Look at the sloppy turnovers and all the mistakes. That is minimized with more veteran presence out there."

Despite scoring a goal in the third period, Dennis Seidenberg had plenty of trouble moving the puck out of the defensive zone and admitted so after the game, explaining his role on the third Buffalo goal.

"Yeah, I wanted to hit [Mark Recchi] going wide and it just slid a little bit off my stick, and it went off the boards to the middle, and [it got] picked off," Seidenberg said. "We just kind of turned it over and [they] used it on a 2-on-1 and they scored."

But Seidenberg and Wideman weren't the only ones to blame for such mistakes. With the exception of Chara, who had an assist and finished at plus-2, the Bruins' defense had plenty of mental mistakes and turnovers. While the team overall didn't play a horrible game, the defensive lapses combined with Thomas' rough night equaled their downfall.

"I think we played well," Seidenberg said of the team's effort. "We had good energy, but those little letdowns were enough for them to win the game. If we don't have those, there is a good chance we end up winning that game."

This has been the case in almost every other game and that's why the Bruins are still barely hanging onto a playoff spot with only seven games to go.

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