Starting jobs are tough to come by. One minute, you’re the man. Next thing you know, you’re peeking over your shoulder to see who’s on the verge of stealing the spotlight. Contrary to what it may initially seem, job security is pretty much where it needs to be for the Bruins’ goaltending.
Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez come into the season as the team’s No.1 and No. 2, in no particular order. Thomas is coming off the best season of his career, as well as his first All-Star appearance, while Fernandez is coming off knee surgery.
Both are unrestricted free agents by season’s end, yet both insist there’s no competition.
“That’s not how it works,” said Fernandez. “You get your game in order, and let the coaches make the decisions that they have to make. Both me and Tim have played this game long enough that we have the feeling they’ll put the best guy in there to help the team win. And if you’re that guy, then be it.”
The Minnesota Wild traded Fernandez to the Bruins last summer, after a knee injury knocked him out for the second half of the 2006-07 season. While he was out, Niklas Backstrom flourished as the team’s No. 1, leading the league in save percentage (.929) and goals-against average (1.97).
Rather than go with a platoon system, Wild general manager Doug Risebrough dealt Fernandez to Boston for prospect Petr Kalus and a 2009 fourth-round draft pick.
Fernandez’ time in Boston hasn’t gone as planned. The same knee injury lingered and forced him to have season-ending surgery on his left MCL last December. Fernandez (a $4.3 million salary cap hit in 2008-09) played in only four games last season, going 2-2 with a 3.93 goals-against average and a .832 save percentage.
Three preseason games into his return, Fernandez has had no knee issues.
“The knee feels good,” said Fernandez. “There’s no sense in looking back anymore on this, so hopefully we can go forward.
“The big question mark is how I’m going to feel after a year off,” he added. “I had all summer to rebuild myself and make it to this point, so I’m really excited to get this going.”
Thomas is also working to get back in regular-season form. After the Bruins’ 3-1 preseason loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday, he said it was the closest he’s been to where he eventually wants to be, allowing two goals on 35 shots. But he has yet to talk to anyone in the organization about what the goalie rotation will look like.
“We’re just taking it day by day, and building for the regular season,” said Thomas. “I don’t want to expect anything and then be wrong. So I’ve been focusing on just getting better every day and getting to the level that I want, and not worrying about that other stuff.
“In certain ways, you can’t map it out. “The best laid plans never work out right, based on injuries and who’s playing well.”
Thomas compares this year’s two-goalie system to last season’s, after Fernandez went down and general manager Peter Chiarelli acquired Alex Auld. Auld made 20 starts, compared to 55 by Thomas.
“Alex Auld made a huge contribution to the team last year,” said Thomas. “It’s necessary, at this level, to have two good goalies. One might get the opportunity to contribute more than the other, based on what’s going on, but both of them need to play well when they get the chance, or else you’re not going to be in the playoffs.”
Regardless of the rotation, the Bruins enter the 2008-09 season with two goaltenders who, when healthy, can stop the puck with the best of them. And having depth in the goaltender position is, without question, a championship necessity.
“I know everybody wants to be a No. 1, but if we’ve got two good goaltenders, then we’re in a situation of strength,” said coach Claude Julien. “Everybody seems to think this is a battle here and that they’re competing against each other. I think it’s a situation where, yeah, you want to compete to play as much as you can, but we’re in a situation of strength. This isn’t a negative situation. I think it’s a great situation.
“We’ve got Tim Thomas here,” Julien continued. “We talk a lot about Manny, but we’re not pushing Timmy aside at all. Timmy had a great year last year. What we’re trying to say here is that if we can get Manny to be on his game, we’ve got two really good goaltenders and I think that’s crucial.”
Danny Picard covers the Bruins for OT and can be reached at email@example.com
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