by PuckStopsHere on 11/24/08 at 04:49 PM ET
It is still quite early in the NHL season, but one team has clearly emerged as the top team in the East Conference so far. That team is the Boston Bruins. They have a 14—7 record (with four losses counted as regulation ties). The only other team with 14 wins in the East Conference is the New York Rangers who have two more games played. Boston being at the top is a surprise. I predicted they would miss the playoffs this year. I think it was a more common prediction to have the Bruins winning one of the bottom playoff berths in the East.
They were coming off of a season where they had surprised to make playoffs. They did so despite a lack of offensive depth. Marc Savard and Marco Sturm were their only forwards to clear 40 points. They did so with a defence that also lacks depth and is strongly dependent upon Zdeno Chara. The main reason that they surprised is that Tim Thomas had a very good year. He was not too far back of the Vezina trophy nominees in terms of his on ice success. For a 33 year old that had spent most of his life outside the NHL - who had never been considered a top prospect - this was a surprise. It was easy to predict that it was an aberration and couldn’t be repeated.
That prediction has been very wrong. At 34, Thomas has been even better. He has been the best goalie in the NHL so far this season. He sports a league leading .944 saves percentage and a 1.80 GAA (which is second in the league). He has been the clear MVP of the Boston Bruins.
Boston still does not have the greatest offensive depth. Marc Savard has had a wonderful start with 27 points, but after him comes Phil Kessel with 16. Zdeno Chara has still logged a lot of minutes on their defence and is not off to a Norris Trophy candidate season. Boston is not your traditional top team. They are on top because Tim Thomas has played so well.
Thomas has been overlooked by the NHL because he doesn’t have the pedigree of a top goalie. In fact, he was left off of the All Star ballot. In an interesting Vezina race where the usual suspects in Martin Brodeur and possibly Roberto Luongo will miss significant time due to injury, Thomas could be a surprise winner. Thomas is not only the Vezina leader; he is a serious candidate for MVP of the league. At this point, I would select Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals as MVP. Due to injury, Semin has not played in over a week. This opens the door for another player to pass him and become the MVP of the young season. Tim Thomas must be considered a leading candidate.
In the NHL, an otherwise average team can be very successful if they have an outstanding goalie. This season, Tim Thomas has been that outstanding goalie. As a result, the Boston Bruins are doing very well. They lead the East Conference. As long as Thomas keeps up this level of play, the Bruins should remain a top team.
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