Over the course of the first three tilts of the Florida Panthers current six-game homestand, it's pretty obvious that with Tim Thomas in goal, the Cats are a pretty competitive bunch. Unfortunately, during last night's loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the veteran netminder suffered his second injury of the young season and finds himself back on injured reserve.
Thomas tweaked his groin early in the Panthers third game, a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, and missed the club's next four outings. The injury came after Thomas got the start in five-straight games (including exhibition action) after returning from a seventeen-month sabbatical.
The current injury came after Thomas made a third-straight start since returning from the first, begging the question, are the Panthers asking too much, too soon from an aging goalie in the early stages of a comeback?
Before signing a PTO after training camp had already begun, Thomas had not played since the Bruins were ousted by the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. So far this season, Thomas has started six of the club's first ten games, and all when he has been deemed healthy.
As of right now, it's unclear what exactly Thomas injured in last night's game. He fell to the ice in similar fashion to the spill he took in Philadelphia two weeks ago, which leads one to believe it's his groin again. The Panthers are off until Friday, but it looks like whatever Thomas' injury actually is, that it's serious enough to warrant at least a short-term recall of Scott Clemmensen from San Antonio.
I understand the Panthers are looking for the best chance to win early in the season, but I think the team is playing with fire if they don't use Jacob Markstrom, who was originally slated to be this year's starter, to spell Thomas on some kind of a regular basis, at least until it's proven that his body has re-adjusted to the rigors of NHL play, and especially when he is returning from something as troublesome as a groin injury.
It's obvious that Thomas still has game, but can he stay healthy enough to make it through the season or has his body been done in by the long layoff? Perhaps that question can only be answered in a positive fashion if the Panthers, and Thomas himself, take a more cautious approach in regards to playing time until the rust fully comes off. Lao Tzu once said "The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long." The Panthers want to be careful they don't ended up saying "The 39-year-old goalie who starts too much misses half the season."