Tim Thomas' first action this preseason didn't exactly go as he would have hoped, as he gave up four goals on just 24 shots against Washington last Wednesday.
Coming on the heels of last season's disappointing campaign, combined with Tuukka Rask's breakout season and with Thomas coming off hip surgery in the offseason, the disappointing debut didn't exactly improve the prospects of Thomas regaining his hold on the No. 1 goalie spot in Boston.
But the Bruins aren't writing the 2009 Vezina winner off so quickly. When asked if he could envision Thomas still making a push for the starting job, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli answered an unequivocal, "Without question."
"We've brought him along slowly so far because of his recovery from his injury," said Chiarelli. "He's not ready yet to properly compete. But what I've seen in camp is that he's been very sharp. I see the battle. I see him get pissed off at players when they score. I see the loose rebounds and he pounces on them. Frankly, I didn't see a lot of that last year, and for a variety of reasons. You've got to give him a little bit of time to get up and running, but he's been really, really sharp."
Thomas himself was disappointed in the results on Wednesday, but happy with how his hip held up to playing a full game for the first time since the end of the regular season last April, calling it "definitely a big step forward."
He'll get a chance to take another step in the right direction on Tuesday, as Thomas is expected to get the start in Boston's final preseason tune-up against HC Liberec. How much action Thomas will see after that remains a question, as coach Claude Julien will have to find a way to equitably divide the workload.
"There's different ways of looking at it, different ways of managing it," said Chiarelli. "I've had long discussions with Claude on it. You have to be fair and equitable, but at the same time you have to win. So you have to balance all these interests and come up with a solution. But we have two No. 1 goalies here."
Julien agrees. He praised Rask for his strong play last year when the rookie led the NHL with a 1.97 GAA and a .931 save percentage, and Julien is confident Rask won't regress in his sophomore season.
"I don't think there is any reason not to believe that Tuukka won't be as good or probably better this year," said Julien. "I think all that experience comes into play here and Tuukka's had the opportunity to gain a lot of it last year."
At the same time, Julien also retains confidence in Thomas, who led the league in the same categories the year before with a 2.10 GAA and a .933 save percentage in 2008-09.
"Tim has come along really, really well," said Julien. "Tim has had nothing but a great attitude toward his rehab, toward getting back into games.
"I really like our goaltending duo," added Julien. "We're a strong group in that area and it's a position of strength that we really have to utilize to our advantage. I've said that before and I still believe in that. And those two goaltenders have to compete hard enough [to show] that they want that opportunity to play, and that competition ? I think it will be a real asset to our hockey club."
For Thomas, now that his hip is finally getting close to 100 percent, all he wants is the chance to compete for his old job.
"I was promised the same chance," said Thomas early in camp. "That's the way I'm approaching it, and I think I will. My play will do the talking. It's in my hands. That's the way I look at it.
"I'm approaching it just like I did every challenge I've had at every level going through," added Thomas. "I've proven in the past what I can do when I bring the best game that I have to the table, so it's up to me to do that."