Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Does Familiarity Breed....A Hot Start?

Atlanta's GM Don Waddell made this comment in a post-season interview: “Unfortunately, it took the guys the first 15-20 games to come together as a team. We had 13 new players that had been added since the last season so there was a transition period.” (

This statement made me curious about the effect of roster turnover on how NHL teams started the season. After all some clubs saw massive roster changes between the end of the 2003-2004 season and the start of the 2005-2006 season. So I decided to take a look at all NHL teams.

First I went through the every NHL team and totaled up all the games played by players who were also on the final 2003-2004 roster. I then divided the games played by returning players by all games by position players. This gave me percentage of all games played by returning players. I used this as my measure of familiarity. I assume that the more people you have returning on your roster them more likely they are to know each other’s tendencies and therefore have an advantage when playing against other clubs that are still learning how to play with their teammates.

In the table below I have ranked all 30 NHL clubs from top to bottom based upon this familiarity index. The high was provided by Vancouver where almost 80% of all games played were by players who had been with the team in 2003-04. The low was the NY Rangers who with only about 20% of games by returning players, so there was quite a wide difference between extremes.

Next I calculated the team points-per-game earned in October (OCT W %) and the points-per-game rater from November to the end of the season (Nov+ W%). Finally I coded each teams’ October start as better or worse than their winning percentage the rest of the way to see if it fits with the turnover hypothesis.

So what does the data show?

  • Of the 10 teams with the most returning player games, 6 out of 10 played better in October than they did the rest of the season.
  • Of the 10 middle teams, 5 out of 10 played better in October
  • Of the 10 bottom teams, 3 of out 10 teams played better in October.

There is a trend here but it is a fairly weak one it seems. One thing that surprised me is that the Atlanta Thrashers fell into the middle third of the league in terms of roster turnover. Anaheim is a rare example of a team that had a lot of roster turnover and yet made the playoffs. Even more surprising to my mind is that they did a lot of roster changes in mid-season. On the other hand, mid-season changes were not as successful for Boston. Everyone thinks of the Sharks as making the big mid-season roster moves with the Joe Thornton trade, but in the Sharks case it was a case of inserting a star player into a fairly stable roster, rather than making wholesale changes in the Anaheim mode.

TEAM..RET%…OCT W%…NOV+ W%....Hot in Oct. or Not?


TB…...74%…..1.33….1.09…. BETTER


OTT…72%……1.60….1.35…. BETTER

DET…71%……1.83…..1.46… BETTER

SJ…….70%……1.08….1.23…. WORSE

EDM…67%……0.92….1.20…. WORSE


MON….65%…..1.42….1.09….. BETTER


MIN…..63%…..1.17….1.00…. BETTER



NAS….58%……1.70….1.24…. BETTER

CAL…54%…….0.77….1.35…. WORSE

COL…53%…….1.18….1.15…. BETTER

CAR….51%…...1.55…..1.34…. BETTER

ATL…50%…….0.55….1.18… WORSE

STL….49%…….0.55…0.72… WORSE

CBJ…..46%……0.46…0.94…. WORSE

NYI….44%……0.91….0.96…. WORSE

WAS….43%…..0.73….0.87…. WORSE

ANA….41%…..1.08….1.21…. WORSE

BOS….37%……1.00….0.88…. BETTER

PHO….36%…..0.79…..1.03…. WORSE

PHI….36%……1.30…..1.22…. BETTER

PIT….35%…….0.64….0.72…. WORSE

FLA….34%…..1.08…..1.03…. BETTER

CHI….25%……0.55….0.83…. WORSE

NYR….20%…..1.15…1.23…. WORSE

Friday, April 21, 2006

How Did the Playoff Teams Do Versus One Another

This is simple question I’ve thought about for years. Every media outlet provides readers with regular season statistics when charting each playoff series. However, those regular season statistics might be deceptive if a team destroyed non-playoff teams but struggled against the contenders. What I really want to know is how each playoff qualifier fared when playing against quality opponents—defined as other playoff teams.

So I put all the regular season numbers into my handy spreadsheet and calculated each team’s winning percentage, power play conversion rate and penalty kill rate in games involving just playoff teams. I also calculated the Pythagorean win percentage rates for each team using their goals for and goals against in games versus other playoff teams.

Note: When calculating win percentage I ignored all points form 4-on-4 overtime wins and losses as well as shoot out wins and losses. Why? Because neither of these things will be used to decide playoff games are I presume are less meaningful for predicting playoff games. Any game not settled in regulation I treated as a tie (and all goals scored in OT or the SO were deducted from the Pythagorean win percentage calculations).

Below I list each playoff series. After each team name I have their regular season win percentage (ignoring OT and SO) and in () I have their winning percentage for their games against other playoff qualifiers. The same applies for the PP% and PK%. The number lists their PP% over the full 82 game regular season, while the numbers in () contain their PP% and PK% in those games versus playoff teams.

Western Conference
Team:Win %………PythWin%……PP%………………PK%
ANA: 56% (44%)….57% (44%)….18.1% (16.7%)…83.5% (79.4%)
CAL: .60% (57%)….56% (54%)….18.2% (18.9%)…84.3% (82.7%)
As you can see above, Anaheim’s solid regular season winning percentage of 56% falls right off the table if you look at how they fared versus other playoff teams, while Calgary’s win percentage remained robust against stiffer competition. The Ducks power play also struggled mightily against quality opponents at just 16.7%--which ranks 14th among all playoff teams. Calgary’s numbers look remarkably stable regardless of who they were playing. Advantage: Calgary

Team:Win %………PythWin%……PP%………………PK%
EDM: 50% (46%)….51% (45%)…18.1% (17.8%)…84.1% (83.5%)
DET: .71% (68%)….69% (65%)….22.1% (24.8%)…85.5% (82.9%)
For those who think Detroit’s terrific regular season numbers are just the product of a weak division—think again. The Red Wings’ winning percentage against other playoff teams is an outstanding 68%. An even more impressive stat is that their red hot power play unit was actually better versus playoff teams than non-playoff teams. Edmonton had the better PK unit, and they’ll need it. Advantage: Detroit

Team:Win %………PythWin%……PP%………………PK%
DAL: 59% (55%)….58% (54%)….17.7% (17.85)…83.7% (84.0%)
COL: 54% (45%)….56% (48%)….18.8% (18.5%)…80.1% (72.0%)
During the regular season Dallas greatly benefited from the SO extra point but even after you remove those bonus points the Stars posted a solid record. When you look at the Stars’ record versus other playoff qualifiers, you can see that their winning percentage only declined from 59% to 55%. In contrast, Colorado’s fell more sharply from 54% to 45%. The most disturbing number for Avs fans is the shockingly poor penalty kill numbers (72.0), dead last among the 16 playoff clubs. Advantage: Dallas

Team:Win %………PythWin%……PP%………………PK%
NAS: 59% (46%)….57% (41%)….18.4% (16.6%)…86.2% (79.5%)
SJS: ..54% (50%)….54% (54%)….18.2% (17.3%)…80.7% (81.8%)
If you’re looking for a team with an inflated record due to weak schedule look no further than Nashville. The Predators appear tough given their overall win percentage of 59% but they appear to be playoff pretenders once you see their pedestrian 46% win percentage against other playoff squads. The Sharks have a better record when playing against good teams and have a better power play and penalty kill then the Predators once you remove all those games against weak teams. Throw in the absence of Vokoun and this series could be a rout in favor of the Sharks. Advantage: Sharks

Eastern Conference
Team:Win %………PythWin%……PP%………………PK%
OTT: 66% (61%)….70% (66%)….20.8% (20.3%)…84.7% (84.1%)
TBL: 49% (39%)….47% (43%)….16.7% (18.0%)…81.6% (79.2%)
The Lightning might still be the defending Stanley Cup champions, but if their record against good teams is any indication their Cup defense will be over very quickly. Ottawa put up great power play numbers versus quality opponents and had a great penalty kill. Advantage: Ottawa
Team:Win %………PythWin%……PP%………………PK%
CAR: .60% (62%)…56% (59%)….18.2% (18.1%)…86.2% (81.2%)
MON: 51% (43%)…49% (44%)….19.2% (18.1%)…81.1% (79.7%)
For those of you who are doubters, the Hurricanes played even better versus good teams than they did when playing teams that missed the playoffs. The only thing going for Montreal is that their power play is right there with Carolina, otherwise, this one tilts heavily to the Hurricanes. Advantage: Carolina

Team:Win %………PythWin%……PP%………………PK%
NJD: 54% (55%)….52% (51%)….17.7% (15.7%)…81.9% (81.0%)
NYR 54% (44%)….59% (48%)….18.8% (15.8%)…83.7% (83.0%)
On paper this looks like a fairly even contest. Both teams have a below average power play unit versus playoff clubs. But if you compare the winning percentage versus other playoff teams the scales tip heavily in favor of the Devils. The Rangers struggled much more against the better teams in the NHL. Advantage: New Jersey

Team:Win %………PythWin%……PP%………………PK%
BUF: 60% (51%)….57% (49%)….21.2% (19.8%)…86.6% (86.6%)
PHI: .55% (39%)….52% (43%)….18.0% (18.6%)…79.1% (78.7%)
If a team’s record versus other playoff during the regular season is a good indicator of playoff success, the Flyers are in deep trouble. This club had a solid regular season win percentage of 55%, but just a 39% win rate versus the better NHL clubs (dead last among the 16 playoff qualifiers). Throw in uncertainty about between the pipes and Forsberg’s question health and this series could end in a hurry. But Buffalo fans might think twice before getting too cocky, their club also had a much weaker record when facing off against other playoff teams. Advantage: Buffalo

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Can I get a do over?

The Five Games I'd Like To Re-Play from 2005-06

When you miss the playoffs by just a couple of points, you can look back at evey single missed point and wonder what might have happened. But these are my nominees for the five games I'd most like to play over again if I had a time machine.

Game I at Florida 10-5
The season opener against Florida. A close game where the team struggles to score on the power play. Kovalchuk is missing from the unit and that might have been crucial as the power play is scoreless in six chances. Starting goalie Kari Lehtonen goes down after 20 minutes and will miss about half the season. Weak goaltending in his absence prevents the team from making the playoffs.

Game II at Montreal 11-22
Atlanta loses the game in a shoot-out 3-2. The team's power play goes 0-13. No that is not a miss print. One more goal in regulation would have drawn Atlanta two points closer to Montreal in the standings. Kovalchuk, Hossa and Bondra are all stoned by Theodore in the shootout.

Game IIII Chicago (home) 12-11
The Thrashers were in the middle of a hot streak (including a wild upset of Detroit). The team came out flat and fell behind 3-0 to a terrible Chicago team. Holmqvist (who?) scores the wining goal in the shootout.

Game IV at Los Angeles 1-19
The Thrashers had a had huge 5-2 win in Dallas the night before. The Kings get the lead 2-0, but Atlanta rallies to tie it 2-2. Noted goal scorer Jeff Giuliano puts LA up 3-2, but Atlanta roars back with three straight to make 5-3 and it seems that they are in control. Then the wheels fall off as the team gives up three in a row (including a shortie). Hossa then ties it in the third only to see Jeff Giuliano break the tie again. The goaltending was just horrid. This game started a 7 game losing streak.

Game V at Tampa Bay 4-6
A huge battle for the playoff match and the Thrashers are not ready when the puck drops. Behind 1-0 after being outshoot 17-5 in the 1st they manage to tie it only to fall behind again after a stupid penalty by Savard give TB a PP goal to go up 2-1. Thrashers stage a furious 3rd period comeback and salvage a point with Kovalchuk's goal with 4 seconds left in regulation but the damage is done as the Lightning get the winner in the shootout.

Next post I'll list my nominees for the 5 best games of the season.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Death by Goalie

The season is over.

Bad goaltending killed it.

Last night was no different. Dunham let in a brutal slapshot from the wing through the five hole. That gave Washington a 2-1 lead. He was pulled but returned after Garnett hurt his groin making a save. Then Dunham just stood there as a rebound came out to a Capital and didn't even start to move across his crease to play the angle until is waaaaay too late.

It was a crying shame really because a lot of things went the Thrashers way. Holik scored 11 seconds into the game it looked like they were off and running until Dunham coughed up two weak ones and was pulled. Exelby scored his 1st goal of the season and it looked like a huge tally only to see the our own netminder undermind us again.

Our usual whipping boy Andy Sutton made another critical mental error last night. He had the puck on the right hand side of the net and made a blind dump pass behind the net. There was a Capital player there--but he was so shocked to see Sutton hand him the puck that he couldn't catch it and it rimmed around. The play went over to the left side and Havelid tried to clean up Sutton's snafu, Sutton takes up his usual goalie screening position to the right of Dunham. The puck is cycled around on the left side of the ice and Sutton stared at it like Kris Benson in an Atlanta stip club until the pass comes across to a wide open Ovechkin for an easy blindside goal.

I watched the reply many times, Sutton never once turned his head to even check and see if anyone was on his goalie's blindside. Heck, on the replay you can see Ovechkin skates right through the high slot directly in front of Sutton and then curls into the open right side of the ice. You'd think a Thrasher defensemen just might want to trace the other team's best player wouldn't you? Sutton has a place in the NHL, but it is not playing 20+ minutes a night for any club that wants to contend.

Anyway, it is over and done. For those of you who have been reading the blog I intend to keep writing but I will focus a bit more on the league as a whole and the Stanley Cup playoffs as well. In the near future I intend to write about who got the most out of their salary spent, a look at rating NHL team's drafting abilities and a look at attendence. So keep coming back if you've enjoyed this blog.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Biggest Day in Thrasher History, Part 2

Wow, the fortunes of the Atlanta Thrashers continue to twist and turn like a M. Night Shyamalan movie. After a stirring come from behind victory on Saturday I went home to watch the Lightning Carolina game. I had been planning to go see the Gladiators 1st ECHL playoff game on Saturday, but I realized that I would be sitting in the stands obsessing about the score in the Tampa game so I stayed home instead. My friend JK Sockey came over and we agonized as the Tampa and Montreal games played out.

Tampa won in OT versus Carolina and it seemed that the Thrashers chances were going down in flames. Carolina had a 5 on 3 where they didn't score and a clean cut breakaway that John Grahame snuffed out. Each Carolina missed scoring opportunity was like a kick in the stomach.

When the Tampa game went to commercial break, I switched over to see the end of the Montreal game where to my surprise Buffalo had taken a 3-2 lead. Montreal only needed to get a point in their final three games to clinch a playoff berth, so I had given up hope of catching them. But here they were losing in regulation to Buffalo and still lacking that single point that would punch their playoff ticket.

Then today (Sunday) New Jersey beat Philadelphia, which has huge effect on the final Montreal game. New Jersey not has the possibility of home ice in the first round if they win their final game and so we can expect to see Brodeur and a regular lineup on Tuesday night.

If the Thrashers can beat Washington on Monday night, the NHL will see an extraordinary night on Tuesday as three NHL teams battle to see who will get the final two Eastern Conference playoff berths. The CenterIce remote will get a workout as the three different games start at 7:00 and 7:30 for the ultimate climax to a crazy season. If the Thrashers pull this out and make the playoffs this will be a run that fans will talk about for years.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Biggest Thrasher Day in History, Part 1

Well I'm back from the Thrashers home finale and it was a minature replica of the entire season-- a roller coaster of thrills and chills. Despite falling behind 1-0, 2-0 and 3-2 the team rallied for a 4-3 win on goals by Sutton and Slater in the 3rd period. Dunham let in a bad goal along the ice from the side in the first and the team allowed another short handed goal. Strangely I was confident that they would win given the team's potent offense. A word of thanks to the friends who provided us with great seats in the lower level for the game.

Before the game awards were handed out. Hossa and Kovalchuk were named co-MVP. You could argue it was a cop-out to split the award but I think it was appropriate this season. If forced to I would have picked Hossa over Kovalchuk because of his strong positional play allows Hartely to use him on the penalty kill and that has led to 8 short handed goals this season for him (to put that in perspective, Hossa's personal shorthanded goal production exceeds or ties that of 10 NHL teams!).

Nick Havelid won the Dan Snyder award for being the team's unsung hero. I heard through the grapevine that it was a landslide vote. People around the club realize just how valuable this guy has been this year. I shudder to think about the Thrashers defense without him as a stabilizing force back there all year.

After the game, the team renewed the annual tradition of selecting fans from the crowd to come onto the ice and receive the jerseys off the backs of each player. The Fan-of-the-Year gets to pick which player's jersey he/she will receive. This year's winner stunned me, when they asked the fan which player's jersey he wanted he called out Captain Scott Mellanby. A classy tribute to a great team leader this season who probably played his final NHL regular season home game. I'll be honest, I was not excited when the Thrashers signed him and less so when they made him captain but I was wrong about him. He was a valuable addition. He can still work the cycle down low and crash the crease--old time hockey. I'm glad I had a chance to see him in his final NHL season.

It is also quite likely that Peter Bondra's career is winding down as well. The man works very hard but the speed and shot that induced fear among NHL defensemen have dimished to the point where it is time to hang up the skates I think. It is sad to see, because I remember what a great goal scoring year he had in the short 1994 season when he led the league in goals. I can't believe that was 12 years ago!

Now we must sit and wait for tonight's game between Tampa and Carolina. If Carolina manages to beat Tampa in regulation I think the Thrashers will get into the playoffs. Both of their last two games against the Capitals and Panthers are winnable and the team is playing with great jump and confidence right now. I think tonight is crucial becasue I don't see Tampa losing to the Capitals in their final regular season game--anything is possible--but on paper Carolina is much better team than Washington.

Time to sit down and watch the most important non-Thrasher game in the Thrasher's brief history

Friday, April 14, 2006

Cars, Penalties and Hossa

The Thrashers stayed alive yet another day with a solid win versus the Capitals on Thursday. Highlights of the game included two jaw dropping moves by Marian Hossa—only one of which resulted in a goal, but Hossa tacked on an empty netter at the conclusion of the match. At this point, I shouldn’t be surprised when Hossa does his power move to the net, but I can’t help being shocked when he just splits two defenseman like a knife through butter.

For most of their history the Atlanta Thrashers have seldom seen veteran referees do their games. As a non-contender the Thrash often suffered through games with second tier officials or new guys learning the ropes in the NHL. Lately that has changed as Kerry Fraser and others have made appearances. Last Thursday the veteran referee was McGeough.

If the NHL was trying to make sure that crucial late season games are called right they failed miserably in this instance. The most glaring mistake was a clean shoulder hit by Bobby Holik that caused the resulted in the Washington player’s own stick clipping himself. McGeough saw the blood dripping from the Caps player and thought that the cagey veteran Holik had gotten away with a cheap shot and sent him to the box for four minutes. That incorrect call in a one goal game could have effectively ended the playoff chances of the team but fortunately the Thrashers killed it off.

Both referees failed to call two blatant interference offenses by Washington. At one point one Thrashers forward passed the puck to another play near the faceoff dot—but that player couldn’t shoot because his stick was being held by a Capital. Then the Capitals did a great acting job that resulted in a power play for Washington. And in the game final seconds Sutton got called for “elbowing” on a great check along the boards.

I don’t like to spend space venting about bad calls, because every team gets them during the course of a season, but if this is a preview of how the NHL playoff games are going to be officiated I’m very concerned.

Random Notes: After Modry went off with an injury a guy behind us announced that the radio broadcasters had said that Modry would not return. Someone else quickly replied “Ever?” and drew some laughs.

The woman directly behind me was selected for the Volvo lease giveaway. Her name had been picked in a earlier game but the Thrashers failed to win so she didn’t get a car. This is the 2nd time this season that someone who lost out on a lease had their name selected a 2nd time and won the car. For those keeping score, the four rows next to mine have now hat 6 names drawn and 5 car leases won. Sweet!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Great Tease or the Great Comeback?

What exactly are we watching here? With the Thrashers big win versus Tampa on Tuesday they are still alive and kicking—just barely. We are either watching one the greatest last second playoff drives in NHL history or we are witnessing one last tease before the playoff beacon gets doused for good.

I have to admit having mixed emotions watching the Tampa game. When the Lightning went up 1-0 part of me was almost glad. That part of my brain was ready to get off the emotional roller coaster that has been the 2005-06 season. Of course, the other part of my brain went wild when they scored. Yet another region of my head went “Andy Sutton with two goals in a game—is this a sign from God or a portent of the apocalypse?”

Now here we sit with a week to go. The Thrashers need to be perfect (4-0) and Tampa has to be ordinary for (1-1-1) for Atlanta to get in. The win versus Tampa reminded of other years when another team I root for was trailing 3-1 in the playoffs and wins to make it 3-2. You’re happy, but you know that elimination still looms. You hope for the best, but worry that you're just stalling the inevitable painful finale.

The last few days the Thrashers have benefited from things beyond their control. Carolina showed up on Saturday and played with zero energy and Atlanta got an easy win. Tampa lost to Florida (thank you Panthers). Then Tampa had a goalie meltdown as Burke played way back in his crease and helped the Thrashers leap out to a huge lead on Tuesday.

Now the team needs lots more breaks—and they do receive some in the form of a very winnable schedule the rest of the way. Woeful Washington arrives in town tonight followed by beatable Boston on Saturday. Then it is on the road to Washington and Florida. All of these are non-playoff teams, but that could make them dangerous since they have nothing to play for—other than NHL jobs next season.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Future Thrashers?

Tonight the Thrashers face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a dire must-win-in-regulation game. A loss, or even a tie, ends any last bit of hope for the playoffs. In the meantime, I've been looking at the future...

Over the weekend I checked up on Thrasher prospects in the ECHL. The Gwinnett Gladiators were playing their final home game before their playoffs begin. The Gladiators have the best record in the East and were going for their 50th win.

Thrasher prospect and ECHL rookie Guillaume Desbiens finishes EVERY check. If you have the puck, he will hit you if he is anywhere in the neighborhood. Usually, when you play a meaningless late season game, the main objective of the players is to finish the game healthy so you're ready to go for the playoffs. Apparently Desbiens didn't get the memo. He crushed everyone, every time a chance presented itself. I talked to people who watch the Gladiators on a regular basis and it seems that Desbiens genuinely loves to hit and plays like this all the time.

This is one player that really has surprised me so far. When I first saw him skate at the Thrashers prospect camp he looked terribly out of shape to be honest. I still think he could improve his cardio fitness since he looks winded at the end of shifts at times.
When he was drafted, I looked at his 233 PIM in the Quebec Major Junior League and worried he was nothing but a goon. In the NEW NHL goons that can't skate are without a role. But Desbiens has a decent set of hands.

He scored 27 goals in 56 games his last year in juniors and has continued that pace in the ECHL with 33 goals in 65 games. His goal scoring has increased steadily which suggests to me that he is still developing. I don't see him as much of a goal scorer at the NHL level, but he could end up as a valuable checking line winger with a decent set of hands. (As he moves up the ladder he will stop receiving time on the power play and even strength minutes will be harder to come by as well.)

Desbiens Goals Per Game (and Age)
QMJHL--.21--17 (age)

The other thing that surprised me is just how much of disparity there is between the way penalties are called in the NHL and ECHL now. I saw about 4 or 5 plays that would have been whistled as interference or obstruction in today's NHL that were let go.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Fun While It Lasted

The Thrashers playoff hopes ended last night. No when they lost in the shootout, but when the game went to overtime and Tampa gained a point. The absolutely needed that regulation win. Problems that have plagued this team all year resurfaced:

* Slow Start? Check. The team was outshoot 17-5 in the first.

* Unnecessary penalties? Check. Mark Savard serial offender was in the box for the killer goal that put Tampa up 2-1 in the last minute of the 2nd period. He was joined on the goat list by the usually very disciplined Marian Hossa who was sitting during the Lightning's 1st period PP goal.

* Goal injury? Check. I was worried Lehtonen messed up his knee watching the replay, but they are saying ankle sprain. Most NHL teams are deceptive about injuries so who knows for sure.

* Kovalchuk goal? Check. His one time off a not-so-perfect pass was a thing of beauty. Goal #50 on the season.

* Furious Third Period Comeback? Check. Unfortunately, they only got one when they really needed two goals. Dominated the 3rd period scoring chances and only some great saves by Burke kept them from pulling off the upset.

Watching the third period was like watching a playoff game when you team is in danger of being eliminated. I was standing in front of the TV willing them to score but it just didn't happen.

It is quite disappointing to not be preparing for a playoff round. I'm not going to begin discussing what went wrong or what could have been done better today. We have an entire offseason coming up for that. But I will say that it was very enjoyable to watch some very exciting hockey games since the Olympic Break that and it gives us a taste of what the playoffs in Atlanta might feel like.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

No Discipline = No playoffs?

Do the Thrashers read my blog? Because every player I praised late posting made key mistakes last night in Ottawa. I'll have to more caustious handing out compliments next time.

Thrashers scored twice in the 2nd to retake the lead from Ottawa. Things were going their way, they had the lead and Ottawa's roster is really beat up right now. Then three undisciplined penalties handed the Senators a comeback opportunit on a silver platter. Two 5 on 3 power plays turned into 3 goals for OTT and the Thrashers' playoff hopes are back on life support.

*Kovalchuk took a stupid slashing call after Neil got away with a slash to his skate laces. Dumb.
*Sutton took a board call after an Ottawa defensemen turned into the boards. Hello Andy--they've only been calling that a penalty for about three seasons now. Once again Sutton is either not physical enough or he goes overboard, there is seldom a happy medium with this guy.
*Brad Larson took a costly slew foot tripping call. Seeing it live I thought Heately went down awful easy--but on replay I saw it was a fair call (Heater has never been a great skater, he used to fall down once a game when playing in Atlanta).
*Throw in a terrible pinch by McCarthy and those mistakes absolutely killed the team.

After the game Heatley was asked if meant anything scoring two goals against the team that traded him at the beginning of the season: "I don't think it means anything against your old team," he said.

Ummmm, yeah right! Let's hook a lie detector up and ask that question again!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Staying Alive

Missed a couple of days. It has been a busy but enjoyable couple of days for me and the Thrashers. I drafted three fantasy baseball teams and my 2nd fantasy hockey team somehow managed to leap from 4th place (where I've been all year) into 1st with a strong performances by my netminders Huet and Gerber (which is bad news for the Thrashers). I also saw the movie Joyeux Noel (two thumbs up) which is set during WWI. On Saturday I played roller hockey in this terrific weather we are having, watched the Thrashers cruise to a 5-2 win and then went out and watched too local acts: Anna Kramer and The Selmanaries. On Sunday my ice hockey team got the win in a close contest despite my wiffing on a shot from 10 feet out. The key thing was that I played defense against the other team's top line and ended the night plus. Now I'm watching opening day of baseball season on ESPN and ESPN 2. What a great couple of days!

Back to the Thrashsers, who had a pivotal Saturday. Montreal and New Jersey both won so they look to be out of reach now (I was surpised that the Flyers didn't play the Devils tougher considering they are in a dogfight for home ice with the Rangers in their division).

The game Saturday turned on a single shift by Bobby Holik. Holik nailed Hedican against the endboards and got called for a 5 minute major for boading plus a game misconduct (which is automatic on hits around the head as I understand it). That one shift had an enormous effect on the game:
* The large crowd got riled up and angry right away
* Players on both sides were in an nasty mood and everybody played with their heads up.
* The team was faced with a huge penalty kill that would either give ATL or CAR momentum in the game depending upon how it turned out.

Well the team killed the 5 minutes and they were on their way to killing off all 6 of Hurricane power plays in the match. Hartley used at least 4 different sets of forwards to kill of the 5 minute major. For the most part the Hurricanes failed to get great chances on the major and the Thrashers were off and running.

Savard drew a penatly shot (I thought it was a generous call to be honest) and finished with a backhand roof shot. Then rookie Jim Slater had his prettiest goal of the year as he made several big cuts to weave past Carolina defenders, on his last move in front of the net, he nearly lost control of the puck but just managed to get it up over Ward to make the game 2-0. (Slater's play this year has moved him past Stefan at the center spot in my opinion.)

Kovalchuk had two goals in the 2nd and the game was virtually over at that point. The goal was a like a flashback of Kovalchuk's first couple of season's when he seemingly scored on 90% of his breakaways. He drives straight at the goaltender and then just rips it five hole before the keeper can even move. Where has that shot been in the shootout this season? Hopefully, Kovy has his confidence back on the breakaway now.

Brad Larsen had a sensationial game for a 4th liner. He was great on the penalty kill, single handedly clearing the puck during a 5-3 and he helped to set up one of Kovalchuk's goals.

Havelid had another very strong game and remains one of the more underrated defensemen in the NHL now that I have a chance to watch him on a regular basis. This is a guy who has to work hard to make his usual partner Andy Sutton look good. Sutton was Sutton again on Saturday. Most of the time Sutton is the least physical defenseman in the NHL over 6' but when he does get angry he losses his cool and ends up taking a penalty. This time it was a double roughing call at the 2nd.

With the Thrashers win and a loss by Tampa to the red how Florida Panthers, the team's playoff hpes have new life. They are 5 points behind Tampa Bay but they have a game in hand (tonight versus Ottawa) and two head to head matchups with Tampa. If they cash in the game in hand and the 2 games in Tampa Bay that would put them back ahead of the Bolts. Stil the ends are against all of that happening--but that is why you play the games.

For whatever reason this team plays best when their backs are to the wall they have been teetering on the edge several times and managed to play their way back each time. Can they do it again?

This team had been a funk for four games starting slowly (see the table below). The reversed that Saturday and will need to continue that the final 9 games of the season.

Last Four Games Team Goals Scored/Given Up by Period (BOS, NJ, NYI, TB)
Period 1___-5
Period 2___-6
Period 3___+6

Tonight the team plays against OTT which is extremely banged up (9 regulars out) and OTT is a team they often play well against. Personally, I think Heatley struggles against the Thrashers which is another plus if it continues.

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