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Tim Thomas’ Decline Highlights Importance Of Claude Julien

By Chris Mason, 98.5 The Sports Hub
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Tim Thomas and Claude Julien  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Tim Thomas and Claude Julien (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — As the sarcastic jeers of “Tawww-muss” could be heard echoing faintly from the balcony, Tim Thomas’ sloppy play seemed uncharacteristic to Bruins fans in attendance at TD Garden last night.

However, they’re quick to forget that this used to be expected from the veteran netminder. That is, until one coach — Claude Julien — came into his life. Since leaving him, Thomas is posting his worst goals-against average and save percentage since the 2006-07 season.

It’s easy to blame the drop in play on Thomas’ age, his year off from professional hockey, or his current Florida Panthers team, but the reality lies in his departure from Julien’s defense-first system. The aforementioned 2006-07 campaign goes a long way in illustrating this.

During his fifth year in the Bruins organization, the journeyman recorded a save percentage of.905 and posted a career-worst 3.15 GAA. Yet, the next season the 33-year-old goaltender turned things around, dropping his GAA a whopping 0.69 points and stopping more pucks than he ever had. What was the difference between those two Bruins teams?

Zdeno Chara is often credited for triggering a “culture change” in Boston, and while there is evidence of that, the Norris-winning captain played in front of Thomas in both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. Perennially praised and Selke-winning two-way forward Patrice Bergeron appeared in 77 games for the Bruins in the goaltender’s trouble-filled 2006-07 campaign, and only 10 contests the year Thomas posted his new career best. So how can this jump in play be explained?

The answer comes from behind the bench. Dave Lewis was fired after the 2007 season, and Julien took the reins. He instilled a defense-first system that revitalized the aging Thomas’ career and made him into an elite goaltender for the better half of a decade.

Before Julien took over, Thomas had won hardly anything in his career. The goalie had spent most of his time mired in minor-league or European league hockey. With Julien at the helm, Thomas won two Vezina Trophies, the William M. Jennings Trophy for the goaltender allowing the fewest goals (an award shared with Manny freakin’ Fernandez), the Conn Smythe Trophy, and of course, a Stanley Cup.

Last November, prior to Thomas’ first visit to Boston as a visitor (albeit an injured one), Julien seemed to take offense to the notion that Thomas won the Bruins a Championship on his own.

“Tim played well, but I think our team played just as well in front of him,” Julien reasoned.”You don’t win the Stanley Cup just with a goaltender. He won the Conn Smythe because he was very good, but at the same time I would like to hope that the statistics of your goaltenders can also reflect the team in front of you.”

In his first season with the Panthers, Thomas’ numbers have plummeted from what they were a short two years ago. His save percentage has fallen once again, and his GAA has spiked to 2.75. Thomas has also yet to record a shutout. In his final four seasons as a Bruin, the goaltender recorded at least five per season (nine in his best).

Since Thomas’ departure, Tuukka Rask has skated into the blue paint for the Bruins, and produced GAAs of 2.00 and 2.07. Rask also garnered a playoff save percentage of .940 and 1.88 GAA in last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s safe to say Thomas’ shoes have been filled.

So, next time you’re celebrating the success of an individual player like Rask, don’t forget to tip your cap to the coach who has instilled this winning philosophy in the players on the ice in front of the goaltender.

Chris Mason is an intern at 98.5 The Sports Hub.

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