The Bruins are a perfect 4-0 on the road to open the season, and nobody is talking about it. The team's leading goal-scorer of a season ago admittedly had a setback in his recovery from knee surgery recently, and nobody is talking about it. The flavor even wore on the news that Tyler Seguin will not be returning to juniors.
It's been all Tim Thomas all the time, and honestly, how could anybody justify paying attention to anything else?
With Saturday's 4-0 win over the Senators, Thomas improved to 6-0 on the season with a 0.50 goals against average and a .984 save percentage. The six wins to open the season ties him with Tiny Thompson's 1937-38 start as the best in Bruins history, and there are no signs of him slowing down.
There's no need in playing up the "goalie controversy" angle at this point. Tuukka Rask knows he'll get his time, and for anybody to stir that pot right now would be a huge disservice to Thomas. Nothing should take away from the former Vezina winner getting his due for a historic start to a season in which some felt he didn't deserve to see playing time.
Here are the three biggest stories that came from a road win in Ottawa. Not surprisingly, Thomas kicks it off.
LET'S TALK ABOUT THAT CAP HIT NOW
How long ago was it that people wondered whether or not Tim Thomas would be a member of the Bruins this season? Maybe a couple of months ago. And how long ago was it that B's fans excitedly cheered on the netminder's hot start in hopes that it could boost his trade value?
Oh, how foolish so many people look right now. Even given the team's dire cap situation, the last thing on anyone's mind is Thomas' $5 million cap hit, a favorite topic among the media and whining fans throughout the offseason.
The reason that nobody has made a peep about the money Thomas is making is quite simple: He's been a steal at $5 million. Anybody who has witnessed the stretch of starts Thomas has strung together is likely dumbfounded, so here's the simplest way of breaking down what Thomas has brought the B's this season:
You could flip a coin to determine whether Thomas will allow one goal in a game or post a shutout. That's the way the unreal start to Tim Thomas' season has gone. Shutout, 4-1 win, 3-1 win, 4-1 win, shutout, shutout.
The Bruins significantly upgraded their offense in the offseason by landing Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin, but it turns out that one goal will generally do the trick for them as long as Thomas is between the pipes.
So, assuming the aforementioned contract, which has two more years of $5 million cap hits on it after this season, was something that scared other teams away from trading for the 36-year-old, how quickly are GM's scrambling to get to the nearest phone (there's an expression we can't use in the cell phone age) to say they were kidding? Would the Bruins even field those calls at this point?
The Bruins are going to be in very rough cap shape and will need to unload more than $7 million when Marco Sturm and Marc Savard return, but do you know what contending teams generally don't do? Trade their top performer.
Let that settle, and then consider that it would take a mind as small as Thomas' goals against average to argue that he hasn't been the Bruins' best player this season.
A COUPLE OF SPECIALTIES
So much for that awful start for the B's power play. The team has now gotten power play goals in four straight games and while boasting the eighth-best unit in the league. After Saturday's victory, the Bruins have now scored on 21.9 percent of their power plays.
One reason for the improved power play from a year ago (the B's were 23rd in the league with a 16.6 percent conversion rate) is the addition of the man who provided Saturday's tally in Tyler Seguin. A natural scorer whose offensive talents are developing quicker than his defensive game is a perfect fit on that second unit, and it was on display when he exploded through the neutral zone and to the net, where he took a Mark Recchi pass and beat Senators goalie Brian Elliott for his third goal of the season.
Then there's the penalty kill, which entered the game as the best in the league, and, in keeping the Senators quiet on three power plays, left the game as the best in the league.
Things are generally made easier when the hottest goalie in the league is between the pipes, and it should be noted that Thomas and Tuukka Rask have allowed just one power play goal apiece this season. Even so, the addition of Gregory Campbell and the continued contributions of of Patrice Bergeron have teamed with the defense (notably Zdeno Chara, who was on the ice for all but 1:15 of the Bruins' six shorthanded minutes) to allow the B's to breathe a bit easier when they take a bad penalty.
Speaking of bad penalties, Claude Julien likely doesn't like to see one of his top penalty killers in the box, and it happened again on Saturday when Campbell shoved Jarkko Ruutu while the Senators forward was on the bench. Of course, Ruutu had gotten on the bench and held Campbell's stick, but at any rate it speaks to guys like Brad Marchand that the team can overcome the high penalty minutes Campbell has racked up.
THE BEST YET FOR CLAUDE?
Thomas isn't the only one off to a notable start. Thanks to the six wins Thomas has helped the Bruins achieve, the team is now 6-2-0 on the season, which makes for the best start Claude Julien has had in Boston.
Does the he's-got-to-come-back-to-earth-at-some-point play of Thomas make it too tough to gauge how good a team the Bruins are? Of course it does. Not that they would, but if they wanted two, the Bruins could kick up their feet after their first or second goal of each Thomas start this season. Whatever tests they may have been intended to encounter have been buried by dominant goaltending.
The team is dealing with injuries to three of its top players in Savard, Sturm and Johnny Boychuk. By the time Savard and Sturm are back, their roster will be noticeably different because of whatever necessary financial moves Peter Chiarelli makes. It's way too early to determine what type of team the B's are going to be all season, but say this: They're improved offensively, and they haven't let up over the course of a game. Their biggest issue has been overcoming slow starts in Tuukka Rask games.
Because nobody can say what the roster will look like come the playoffs, it certainly would be foolish to say what it will be able do. Mark Recchi said in Prague that one thing the team could control would be how hard it played.
Here's what Recchi had to say before the first puck of the season was dropped:
“If we learn to play every night as a presence on the night, physical, skating in your face, what your goal is as a team is by the second half of the year for teams to go, ‘Jeez. I don’t want to go play them, because you know they’re going to come and work their tails off, you know they’re going to finish every check, they’re going to be physical every night, and they’re big and they’re fast.’"
It's nowhere near the second half of the season, but it's hard not to think that the Bruins have been able to develop an early reputation. Just eight games in, they've been problematic for opposing goaltenders, averaging three goals a game, and, just in case this is the first line of this column you're reading, they've gotten better netminding than anybody else. They are undoubtedly a tough team to play against, but are they the best of the Julien era?
The first question asked in that case is which Julien Bruins team was tops entering the season. Of course, each of the last two were bounced in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, with the 2008-09 team being much more balanced in the regular season, finishing first in the East with 116 points compared to last year's 91.
Maybe Horton exceeds the 36 goals Phil Kessel scored in 2008-09, when the Bruins were second in the league with 3.29 goals per game. Maybe Matt Hunwick improves to the point where he offers the skill set of a Dennis Wideman. Maybe the team finds a way to keep Michael Ryder and he produces statistically like he did a couple years ago. There are still so many maybes in play, but on paper there's no reason to think that this squad won't be worth the hype.