Commentary

Tim Thomas in unfamiliar role

Suddenly a backup goaltender, veteran works to stay sharp

Updated: February 12, 2010, 8:24 PM ET
By Matt Kalman | ESPNBoston.com

SUNRISE, Fla. -- A familiar sight after Bruins practices and morning skates during the 2008-09 season was backup goaltender Manny Fernandez coming off the ice with his hair so wet with sweat it looked like he'd been sprinting through the desert in a rubber suit.

For the first time in recent memory, Bruins Vezina Trophy-winning netminder Tim Thomas is in that role. Despite some numbers other goalies would pay for, including a 2.52 goals-against average and .915 save percentage, Thomas has been on the bench behind Tuukka Rask the last five games. He is expected to do the same Saturday against the Florida Panthers during the last game before the Olympic break.

[+] EnlargeTim Thomas
Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images Goaltender Tim Thomas has been on the bench behind Tuukka Rask for the last five games.

Thomas, who has not played since a Feb. 2 loss to Washington, noted that Fernandez's workload for a full season was comparable to what Thomas has produced in just two-thirds of the season. So Fernandez had to practice even harder to stay sharp. But there's still a comparison to be made based on the need to prevent any rust.

"There have been some sweaty [practices]," admitted Thomas after a lighter practice at the BankAtlantic Center, home of the Panthers.

Goaltending coach Bob Essensa has joined the team on its current road trip, which started last Sunday in Montreal. So Thomas has had plenty of time to work with his mentor both on and off the ice. Skaters say that sitting out games is sometimes tougher than being in the lineup because of the extra work that has to be done to stay sharp. Being a goaltender, and being on a road trip, however, allows Thomas off the hook a bit.

"Fortunately, actually on the road it's a little less. Because if we were at home, we'd do bike rides after the game and stuff like that. We're traveling, so it makes it a little bit easier," said Thomas. "And for goalies, it's different too. The guys that are out of the lineup, they'll be doing workouts during the first period of the game."

With the 3 p.m. roster freeze taking effect Friday, those pesky trade rumors that Thomas doesn't even want to acknowledge can die down until the couple days leading up to the March 3 trade deadline. The odds of Thomas being dealt are slim, mostly because of his no-movement clause and his $5 million cap hit. And there's also the matter of the Bruins leaning on what some might consider the best goaltending duo in the league.

You'd never know from head coach Claude Julien's comments that there's any goaltending controversy. In every answer to questions about Rask, Julien always makes sure to stress that Thomas is by no means out of the picture.

"He's been good. He's been working hard with Bob and staying sharp. We even see it in practice. If anything, he's getting better. Those are encouraging signs," Julien said Friday. "He's battling well, he's showing confidence there in stopping pucks, so I have a feeling when his time comes he's going to be ready to go."

Depending on how things shake out at the Olympics, Thomas could actually go more than a month without any game action. Whether he'll be able to perform at his peak remains to be seen, but he's working hard to be prepared for when his number's called again.

Matt Kalman is the Bruins blogger for ESPNBoston.com.

Matt Kalman

Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. He has been on the Bruins beat since the lockout for numerous publications and has been covering the Boston sports scene for a decade.

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