Capitals must solve Tim Thomas to avoid third loss to Bruins

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 9:17 PM

Back in the early part of the decade, when Coach Bruce Boudreau's Manchester Monarchs faced the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League, he would wonder how their goaltender managed to keep up such a breakneck pace.

Then, as he does now for the Boston Bruins, Tim Thomas defied conventional goaltending wisdom. From full barrel rolls in the crease to coming out to the hash marks of the faceoff circles to challenge shooters; if it stops the puck, Thomas will make the move.

"I'm wondering, 'Who's this chubby little goalie that's not allowing any goals in?' " Boudreau said. "When he was in Providence, he'd take his mask off, his face would be really red and I'm going, 'Wow, he can't keep this up,' but he always did."

On Friday the Washington Capitals will play Boston for the third time in 13 games this season. The Bruins won the previous two meetings, 3-1 and 4-1, on Oct. 19 and 21, respectively, thanks largely in part to the effort of their 36-year-old goaltender, who stopped 73 shots in those games.

Heading into this installment at Washington, Thomas's play hasn't wavered. He has responded from an injury-riddled 2009-10 campaign and appears to have returned to his Vezina Trophy winning form from two seasons ago following surgery on his hip. He is off to a 7-0-0 start with three shutouts while allowing just five goals and owns the league-best goals against average (0.72) and save percentage (.977).

Boosted by Thomas's performance thus far, the Bruins are exhibiting many of the same traits and confidence as they did in 2008-09, when they captured the top seed in the Eastern Conference. But after a practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Thursday, Boston players made it clear that they know the Capitals will be looking for revenge from the previous losses.

"You play [Washington] three times like this in a short period of time and you win the first two games, you better be ready for a real challenge," Thomas said. "They're going to be hungry and they're going to be looking to redeem themselves."

The Capitals are looking forward to a matchup against the Bruins with a healthy Mike Green back in the lineup and a power play that has recorded five goals on eight chances in the past two games.

"It just seems like we owe them," defenseman Jeff Schultz said. "We had those two okay games that weren't great and had a couple of mistakes. They're probably the hottest team right now; everything's been going well for them and it's good for us to play a team like that so we can have the comparison and see where we're at."

In addition to holding their opponents to a paltry 1.44 goals per game, the Bruins have found offense after finishing last season with the league's lowest goals per game average (2.39), particularly with the top-line combination of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton, who have combined for 29 points in nine games.

For the Capitals, however, the first step to beating the Bruins lies in solving Thomas.

"I think it's just important to get shots off quick," said Eric Fehr when asked about an approach to facing Thomas. "The longer you hang on to it, the better angle he's going to have coming out on you, so it's important to get quick release, make passing plays from side to side and get him moving."

Capitals notes: Defenseman Tyler Sloan and rookie center Marcus Johansson, who have both been nursing hip-flexor injuries, said they expected to be ready to play in Friday's game. Boudreau wouldn't say whether Johansson would be inserted into the lineup immediately: "I think he'll potentially be ready. Whether we use him or not, that's another thing." . . .

Tom Poti (lower-body injury) will not play this weekend. . . .

The Capitals reassigned defenseman Brian Fahey to the AHL's Hershey Bears.

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