It's amazing how quickly things can change. Following the 2008-2009 season, in which Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas took the league by storm and won the Vezina Trophy, Thomas was awarded with a healthy new contract and the support of an entire fan base and organization. But after an injury riddled 2009-2010 season in which Thomas's weaknesses were exposed and he was passed on the depth chart by Tuukka Rask, the Vezina Trophy winner was quickly forgotten. Now, a little more than six months after the Bruins rode Rask to the second round of the NHL playoffs, Tim Thomas has once again taken center stage in Boston after starting the season leading all major statistical categories. But is Tim Thomas the man to take the Bruins deep into the playoffs? Is his performance in the first half of the season indicative of his ability or is it merely a mirage?
A cursory glance at the statistics would tell even the average fan that Thomas has been far superior to Rask so far this season. Tim Thomas is outperforming Rask is all major categories including record save percentage and goals against average. There is no debating that Tim Thomas has been the hot goaltender throughout the majority of the first half of the season, and the Bruins have been smart to ride out his hot streak, but Tuukka time is fast approaching.
Looking deeper into the stat sheet shows that Rask is not receiving proper judgement. His 3-8-1 record may look bleak but when you consider the fact that the Bruins score less than two goals a game when Rask is in net, that sub par record is forgivable.
In addition, an underrated factor in Rask's poor performance is his lack of playing time. Rask, like most goalies, plays better when he gets into a rhythm. The numbers back this up. In October, a month in which he played only twice, Tuukka Rask had a 3.54 goals against average and a save percentage of .894. In November however, he played in six games an posted a 2.24 goals against average with a .938 save percentage. Clearly if given time to get into a rhythm, Tuukka Rask can carry the load for the Boston Bruins.
Going beyond the numbers, few will argue that Tim Thomas is a more technically sound goaltender than his Finnish counterpart. In fact, it is tough to argue that any goaltender in the league has as strong of fundamentals as those which Tuukka Rask has perfected. His butterfly is wide enough to cover the entire bottom half of the net, his lateral movement is insanely fluid and quick, and he is always square to the shooter which allows him to have tremendous recovery skills.
Tim Thomas on the other hand has quite a few fundamental flaws in his technique, or lack thereof. Thomas does not play a particular style and there is no technique that he relies on when he plays. His butterfly is sloppy which causes him to scramble around the crease making desperation saves. His recovery skills suffer due to his lack of balance in the butterfly which causes his weight to carry him backwards when he goes to the ice. Sure sometimes this style of play works.When he is playing well we see results such as the '08-'09 season, but when he isn't, things can go disastrously wrong. There is nothing consistent about a player who has no fundamentals to fall back on when the going gets tough.
Some will point to Dominik Hasek and his lack of technique, but Hasek was far more athletic and quick than Thomas will ever be. To compare the two does an incredible disservice to the Dominator.
Now none of this is to say that Thomas is not valuable to this Bruins team or that he is not worthy of starting in the NHL. I think he provides a ton of energy in his style of play, and would make quite a few teams happy as a starter. The Bruins simply need to keep an eye on his workload and realize what they have in Rask. If they continue to ride Thomas into the ground like they have, not only will he burn out by season's end, but they will not have allowed Tuukka Rask to establish any sort of rhythm or confidence heading into postseason.
Tim Thomas is older, less talented, and makes more money than Tuukka Rask. It is time the Bruins start thinking about the future and figure out how to get the most out of what little Tim Thomas has left in the tank.