It looks like the Florida Panthers have every intention of getting their money's worth when it comes to goaltender Tim Thomas. The mustachioed 39-year-old veteran has started six consecutive games since returning from groin injury number two, leading the rebounding Cats to a 3-3 record over that span. New coach Peter Horachek, like Kevin Dineen before him, has not shied away from using Thomas, as he has gotten the starting nod in every game this season when 100% percent healthy.
How important is Thomas to the Panthers' fortunes this year? Well, the club now sports a 5-6 record, including three wins in their last four outings, with the former Bruin in goal. Compare this to the 1-6-4 record compiled by backups Jacob Markstrom and Scott Clemmensen and it's easy to see that a healthy Thomas is paramount to any success the Cats may have the rest of the way.
In the six games since Horachek was promoted from San Antonio to replace Dineen, Thomas has held the opposition to 15 goals, giving the offensively-challenged Panthers a chance to win every one of those tilts. The three losses suffered in those games were all by a single goal. Although the Cats have been close in almost every game (that wasn't against the Blues) this season, the team seems much more confident in front of the highly-decorated vet than the other goalies on the roster. Thomas has lowered his GAA to a solid 2.77 and has raised his save percentage to .910%. Markstrom and Clemmensen both sport a .877% save percentage and the duo are both surrendering over three goals-a-game.
Unfortunately for Florida, Thomas' two early stints on injured reserve set the club back in its quest to return to the playoffs after last year's miserable campaign. As of now, the Cats find themselves eight points out of the final wildcard spot, so they will need to pile up wins to get back in the thick of the race. After the team returns from Alberta, it will begin an important five-game homestand. It may turn out the early-season slide that spurred the coaching change, which included a nine-game losing streak, is indeed insurmountable, but there are still enough games left for a healthy Thomas to lead to the Panthers' back towards the respectability they briefly gained by capturing the Southeast Division in 2011-12, and maybe even to a surprising post-season appearance.