After the Bruins' 3-1 win over Atlanta, Thomas leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.67), save percentage (.949) and shutouts (5), while compiling a 16-4-3 record. So how could Thomas possibly be part of the club's recent struggles?
Maybe because of his success this year, the Bruins have allowed him to become a bit of a security blanket and are relying too much on him to cover for their breakdowns.
"At least we know that when we have a breakdown, Timmy's been there most times to bail us out," defenseman Adam McQuaid said after a recent game. "That definitely helps us out."
In the short term yes, but it can create bad habits that lead to bigger problems in the long run. The Bruins have always prided themselves on being a tight, conscientious defensive team under coach Claude Julien. That held true at the start of this season as well.
But in recent weeks, the Bruins have been subjecting their goalies to far too many shots and scoring chances. After allowing 40 or more shots just three times in 22 games through November, the Bruins surrendered 40-plus shots four times in their first 10 games this month.
The low point came last Saturday, when the Capitals outshot Boston 26-2 in the third period, and only a spectacular effort by Thomas enabled the Bruins to escape with a 3-2 victory — their only win in five games heading into Thursday's clash with Atlanta.
"We would have liked to have had a better third period than we did," McQuaid said after that game. "But I think if you ask him it's part of his job, and he's happy doing it."
Thomas has stated many times that like most goalies, it is easier to get into a rhythm with more shots, but there is a point of diminishing returns on that philosophy. No goalie, not even one as hot as Thomas has been this season, can withstand the kind of onslaught he's been facing lately on a regular basis.
Add in the fact that Thomas turns 37 before the end of the season and is coming off hip surgery, and it would be wise not to put quite so much pressure on the veteran netminder every time he's in goal.
The good news is the Bruins seem to be aware that they might be asking too much of Thomas, and they're looking to make life a little easier for the star goaltender.
"I think maybe it could be," Bruins forward Blake Wheeler said recently. "I think we might take him for granted every once in a while and we have to start limiting those shots against and give him a little breather back there."
The Bruins could also make things easier by giving Thomas more of a cushion to work with. They're still in the middle of the pack in scoring in the NHL. That is a mighty big step up from a year ago when they were last in the league, but they had scored just nine goals in five games heading into Thursday's clash with Atlanta, when they scored four. After scoring four or more goals six times in the first 17 games of the season, the Bruins have had more than three goals just three times in the last 16 games.
Fewer shots at their own net and a few more going into the other cage are just what the Bruins need to take full advantage of the historic season Thomas is having.
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