Dale Tallon knew he was going to see the best of Tim Thomas on Saturday night. The day before, Tallon spoke with his goalie and got a feel for where he was mentally.
“He told me he was sick of losing,” Tallon said Saturday night, moments after Thomas’ 31-save performance in a 2-1 shootout win over Minnesota. “He’s not used to this. And let me tell you something, this guy is a winner. When we talked to him in the summer, that’s the first thing that jumped out. He wants to win, and he battles. He’s a difference-maker, and he gives our guys some confidence out there. He’s a champion. He’s what we need.”
Thomas was Florida’s biggest offseason acquisition, although technically he signed during training camp. A Stanley Cup champion with Boston two years ago, Thomas appears to be hitting his stride.
After giving up two goals in the first period against the Bruins on Thursday night, Thomas has surrendered two goals in the next 112-plus minutes off 63 credited shots on goal.
Thomas also stopped both shots faced in the shootout as the Wild went 0 for 2.
“I’m feeling more comfortable there, feeling progressively better,” said Thomas, who missed a week after injuring his groin Oct. 8 in Philadelphia, but returned to face his former teammates.
“I thought I felt good through the preseason and even [the opener] in Dallas. Then I had a couple of rough games there, and I had my little injury. Now, I can feel my movement getting better. There’s nothing like a game. You can practice all you want. You need games.”
Although there was a report in Sunday’s Ottawa Sun saying Tallon was willing to deal veteran players, that wouldn’t come until the Panthers are out of playoff contention.
Florida might spin off players, sure, but it won’t come until the trade deadline — if at all.
Thomas, with a one-year deal, could be an attractive addition to a team in contention come the deadline if the Panthers are out of it. The Panthers, and Tallon, aren’t thinking about that right now. If the Panthers are to crawl out of this early hole, Thomas can help.
“He’s only played four or five games in the past 18 months,” goalie coach Robb Tallas said. “It takes some time to settle in, but he’s doing it. He comes to the rink every night believing he’s going to win. That gives our guys confidence. They know he’s going to make that timely save. They can do what they need to do.”
This and that• One thing the Panthers have been really good at this season has been killing penalties. Minnesota went 1 for 5 on the power play Saturday with its lone goal of the game coming when a shot hit Jesse Winchester’s stick and went past Thomas.
“Thomas’ calm attitude sure helps things,” Winchester said. “Their power-play goal went off my stick. I went back to the net and he said, ‘No worries.’ That’s refreshing. I apologized after the period, and he told me it was just a hockey play. You move on, get the next one. That’s key for a growing team. It was nice to see.”
Winchester has been a nice addition to the Panthers penalty kill. When Florida was killing off a long 5-on-3 disadvantage in the third, Winchester was on the ice for a good portion of it as was Mike Weaver.
“It’s great to have a goalie who can make the key saves for if not, you’re not killing it off,” said Weaver, who played 2:19 of Florida’s 2:41 shorthanded time in the third Saturday. “I thought we played pretty tight in our zone and made the simple plays, sacrificed our bodies.”
Florida’s penalty kill came into Sunday ranked 19th in the league after finishing dead last with a franchise-record low success rate last year. Florida has been successful on 81 percent of its penalty kills.
“The penalty-killing was stupendous,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “We had two 5-on-3s and they made big plays. … We had to do that part of the game, and it’s something we’re taking a lot of pride in.”• Florida’s power play finally got something going as it got the team’s first goal in four games. The Panthers are 24th in the league scoring at a 12 percent clip.
“We got a power-play goal, we killed off some penalties,” Jonathan Huberdeau said. “We did everything [Saturday]. That’s how we got the two points.”• The shootout goal scored by Brad Boyes on Saturday moved him into a tie for second on the active skater list, not first as was reported in the Miami Herald. Boyes has 32 goals in 71 shootout attempts; he’s tied with Minnesota’s Zach Parise and one back of Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk.