Unless you’re a hardcore anti-Boston Bruins fan, it’s hard to cheer against Tim Thomas.
There’s something very Rudy about this guy. In a time when goalies taller than six-foot are becoming the norm, the stout 5-foot-11, 201-pound Thomas carries not only a different kind of frame, but also a different kind of style and backstory.
After getting his first taste of the NHL during a four-game stint with Boston as a 28-year-old, Thomas returned to Finland – where he’d already played parts of three seasons – two years later and didn’t return to the NHL until he was 31. By then, nobody took him seriously as someone who would stick with any roster. How could someone with Thomas’ wild, unpredictable way of stopping pucks find consistency? Who does he think he is, Dominik Hasek?
Finally, in 2008-09, nine seasons after posting a 10-21-3 record with the Detroit Vipers of the International League, Thomas finished his Everest-like climb to the goalie summit by winning perhaps the most improbable Vezina Trophy ever.
There’s something about Thomas that just connects with the Average Joe. Maybe it’s how he made his career without anything being handed to him; maybe it’s how he makes you feel like you’re hanging out with one of your buddies when you talk to him.
The first time I interviewed Thomas was at the All-Star Game in Montreal the year he won his Vezina. It was after practice the morning of the skills competition and the Eastern Conference dressing room was packed with media – I’m talking sardines in a can. I made my way through the madness to find Thomas and was able to grab him 1-on-1 for a few minutes. We shook hands, I sat on the bench next to him and the whole time he genuinely seemed to enjoy the hectic all-star experience.
We talked about a few things, but the funniest was when I asked him about the worst hotel in which he’d ever stayed on the road.
Thomas told me about one room that had human feces on the desk chair upon his arrival. Horrified, he called the front desk to have it removed, which it was. But when the hotel staff brought in another chair, it was obviously the same one they had just “hosed down” outside.
Not wanting to throw an entire city under the bus, Thomas didn’t tell me where that was.
How can you not cheer for a guy like that?
GAME OF THE MONTH: Carey Price ruined the roll Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks were on by stymieing one of the league’s most dangerous offenses – and its second-best power play – Nov. 9. Price turned aside 34 shots and four power plays to post his second shutout of the season and ended what was a six-game winning streak for the West Coasters.
RISING: Jaroslav Halak was an also-ran on the original list, but is now clearly in the running. However, with a defense in front of him that’s playing extremely well, Halak can’t afford to slip (as he did Nov. 10 against Columbus, when he was chased in the second period after surrendering four goals on just 15 shots) if he hopes to remain in consideration.
FALLING: You knew it was too good to be true. After appearing at No. 7 on our initial Vezina Watch, Kari Lehtonen has sunk back to reality after winning only three of his past nine starts, posting a 3.13 GAA and an .893 save percentage in that time.
MAKING THE CASE
Of goalies who’ve played at least 10 games, Thomas has lowest goals-against average and highest save percentage. And his 8-1-0 record isn’t too shabby, either.
With so many of their offensive players struggling, the Habs largely have Price to thank for their spot atop the Northeast.
Hasn’t lost since Oct. 21 and has allowed a measly three goals in his past four starts.
Can’t deny Halak has been lights-out this year, but credit is also due to St. Louis’ defense – Halak has faced more than 30 shots just three times this season.
Only three of the NHL’s four worst teams have scored fewer goals than Minnesota, yet the Wild sit tied for eighth in the West. With a 1.98 GAA and .937 save percentage, if this team makes the playoffs, it’s because of Backstrom.
With each passing game, it looks more and more like ‘Bob’ is for real. Has seen his GAA dip by .80 and his SP rise by 28 points over his past nine starts (8-0-1 record).
Consistency is always the question with ‘Niitty,’ but he’s been on a roll lately. He has allowed more than two goals only once since Oct. 21 and his only regulation loss in that span was a 1-0 decision versus Minnesota.
After a sloppy start, Elliott and the Senators are settling in. The 25-year-old has won seven of his past eight starts, including a 2-0 shutout of Thomas and the Bruins Nov. 13 that is Thomas’ only loss to date.
As Vokoun goes, so do the Panthers. Yes, they’re below .500, but Vokoun is a model of consistency with a 6-5 record, 2.42 GAA and .917 SP – all elite numbers on a subpar team… again.
The Ducks allow the most shots-against per game and is 22nd in goals-for, yet sit above .500. Hiller allowed 19 goals in his first five games, but only 23 in the 10 games – and two regulation losses – since.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: At first glance, you’d think Michal Neuvirth should be on this list – but while his numbers are impressive, he’s clearly a beneficiary of the best offense in the NHL. Neuvirth has won four of his past five starts, but allowed three or more goals in all of them while facing more than 30 shots only once. Other notables: Jimmy Howard, Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo.
THN.com's Vezina Trophy Watch will appear monthly throughout the season and don't miss out as we'll also track the Hart, Norris and Jack Adams.