Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Climbing Mount Attendance

At the moment the Thrashers rank 20th in the league in attendance which is as high as they have ranked since their inaugural year. However, their average number of fans 15,254 is actually about 250 people less than their average last season. This suggests that a) other teams are doing worse allowing Atlanta's rank to rise; b) the Thrashers probably drew more in the second half last year once college and high school football seasons finish up in the area.

I have also noticed that over the years it seems like every time the fans fill the building and make a sell out the Thrashers loss on the ice. If I worked for the ticket selling side of the organization I would have a serious beef with the on-ice people because you want that sell out crowd to go home deliriously happy and willing to come back and buy more tickets. Instead you get 18,000 leaving grumpy.

So far this season the Thrashers have had 5 home games that drew more than their season average. Here are the five good attendance games so far this season
3-2 SO Loss to Tampa17,269
4-2 W over Florida 16,000+
5-4 W over Ottawa 16,000+
5-2 L to NY Rangers sellout
5-3 L to Dallas sellout

So you can see that they have pretty sucked in the two sell outs so far this year and managed come back and a collapse in the near sell out on opening night.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Game 21 and 22: Seeing Stars and Rouge, Blanc and Bleu

Today is a bit of catch-up post.

The Stars game began as I expected the Thrashers were simply not playing at the same level as the Stars in the 1st period and they fell behind 3-1. Hartley pulled Lehtonen and Kari could have played better (on one of the goals he pulls off his post allowing the goal to go in). I watched the three Dallas goals in super slow motion and Coburn was clearly to blame on two of them. In one he had good body position on Barnaby and even had his stick close to Barnaby's stick but he simply failed to execute a good stick check allowing the redirect goal right in front of Lehtonen. On the third goal Coburn ran right into Lehtonen and fell on his leg preventing Kari from moving across the crease to prevent the wrap around goal.

The team briefly rallied to make it interesting in the third. But this game demonstrates my biggest complaint against the Thrashers--you can't spot playoff caliber teams a big lead and expect to be able to come back and win on a regular basis. This squad simply has to figure out a way to answer the bell at the beginning of the 1st period.

Stefan had three points and finished a +4 for the game. He came out and skated when he was selected as one of the three Stars. I heard some people remark "good for him" but I wanted to ask them "why do you say that?" If Stefan had every played like that on a consistent basis in Atlanta he never would have been traded. Dallas has him playing on the third line with noted goal scorer Matthew Barnaby and he manages to get three points in under 15 minutes of ice time.

My other big complaint about the Thrashsers in the Dallas game was the incredible number of aimless dump passes into the neutral zone. I realize that there are many times during a game that a team will trade possession of the puck in order to put down the ice. However, the Thrashers were not even getting the puck deep into the Dallas end, they were simply making dumps to the neutral zone which Dallas players turned into quick counter attacks.

I have to say that Bobby Holik has been rather invisble lately. He is getting paid top 6 money and right now the team is clearly not getting a good return on that investment. On the other hand Mellanby continues to shock and amaze me by making smart plays like the one that led to the first Thrasher goal. He made a nice pass to Kovalchuk and then drove to the net. The fact that Mellanby was at the net forced the Dallas defensemen to stay there which left the slot wide open for Rucchin to score the goal.

The miserable drive home was made even more miserable by the completely inane remarks made by the Mark Stulberger on the post-game show. He must have mentioned three different times in the span of about 8 minutes how Kamal and Odgers had plane problems last trip. How many times do we need to hear about that? Then he went on to rip Lehtonen talking about giving up 3 goals on few shots. I began to wonder if he had even watched the game and was simply using the boxscore as he source for comments.

I have fewer complaints about the Montreal game. The team played better from top to bottom and Coburn made fewer mistakes so hopefully he was just nervous in the 1st versus Dallas. It is always entertaining to watch the game on RDS and we had someone who could provide us with translations every now and again. Michigan lost and the Thrashers did the same, but at least they made a match out of it.

I'm out in Denver for the holiday and so I will be down at the Pepsi Center tonight watching the COL v ANA game instead of ATL v WAS. I will probably take in a Denver University game this weekend as well. Before I left town I went back through my recorded games and updated my penalties drawn data which I will post this weekend.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Kiddie D Corps?

Well I'm looking forward to tonight's contest between the Thrashers and the Stars for two reasons. First, it will be the first Thasher home game in half a month where I will be able to watch the entire game in person. My work and rec hockey schedule have conspired to keep me away from Philips Arena far too much lately, but the work conflicts are over for the rest of the season woo-hoo!

The second reason I'm anticipating tonight's game is the arrival of Braydon Coburn and Mark Popovic. I'm not sure if both will play tonight but at least one of them will. Now, I'll admit that in the past I've said some not-so-nice things about Coburn's decision making, but I'm hoping to see some improvement over last year and I'm keeping an open mind. Personally, I like Popovic when I've seen him play for either the Thrashers or in the AHL (I've seen him play for both the Wolves and the Cin. Ducks). I've been rooting for him to get a shot at the big leagues for a while now.

The Stars should provide a good test for either of these young defensive pups. They have forwards who are both quick (Modano) and tought (Morrow) and they are very solid western conference power.

Some other things I'm curious about include how the Thrashers stack up against some of the western teams. This is the first "inter-league" game for the Thrashers and their next one will not be until January 13th versus the Ducks. (Random thought: Do MLB play a higher percentage of interleague games than NHL teams play inter-conference games? I should go look this up.)

How will this team start? They looked mentally tired the last few games so the 5 day break should have done them well (unless that paintball contest wore them out). On the other hand, I did a post last season that showed that the Thrashers had a higher winning percentage when there games were closer together. The team tended to struggle when they were off for a while. So my prediction is another slow start in the first period and then a furious 3rd as they use those rested legs.

I'd had some inquiries about the penalties drawn data. I hope to update the chart his weekend. I will try and update every two weeks or so.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Tale of Two Games

The Thrashers played two games against quality teams this week the Senators and the Rangers. Both made the playoffs last year and each figured to provide an exciting matchup. Unfortunately, this blogger couldn't attend the Ottawa game in person since I was working and then had my own hockey to play so I watched it on tape delay.

What can you say other than Slava Kozlov remains probably one of the most underrated players in the NHL. Unless he plays for your team I'd wager most NHL fans have no idea how good of a players he is. Kozlov showed his range against Ottawa scoring a goal on a redirect right in the crease, a quick wrister on a pass from behind the net and a Kovalchuk-esque slapper from the top of the circles for the game winner.

Both Hossa and Kovalchuk also registered points putting them both in the top three in the league in scoring. The win in overtime also put the Thrashers into first place in the NHL standing (but then again they have played more games than most teams).

OK that completes the good news side of this post. The bad news part consists of Bob Hartley's continuing to screw up the goalie rotation by playing Hedberg until he has a bad game--which he did against Ottawa and then throwing Lehtonen into the net in relief. What is so difficult about setting up a rotation where Kari plays 2 games and Hedberg plays 1 out of every three? Is it so hard for Hartley to figure out that goaltenders produce at their maximum level with regular rest? Doesn't it make sense that you will need to use your backup and you might want to make sure he gets SOME work on a regular basis?

Next up we have the Thrasher players who continue to come out flat in the first far too often this season. This a Thrashers tradition extending back to last year and it really needs to end. You are not going to go far in the playoffs if you fall behind in the first period. A slow start was really fatal in the game versus the Rangers where they gave up a goal just 15 seconds into the game.

I was frustrated after the Rangers loss so I went and added up all the shots on goal and goals by period for all Thrasher games so far this season. The numbers were about what I expected but here they are for your viewing pleasure.

The chart below shows the Thrashers shots on goal by period and the number they have given up each game. As you can the Thrashers have been out shot in the first period and then have turned it on in the 2nd and 3rd periods.

1ST 167 180 -13
2ND 208 183 +25
3RD 181 159 +22
OT/SO 13 16 -3

As you might expect the shots-on-goal are related to scoring patterns. The chart below shows that the Thrashers who are outshot in the 1st periods and they are also outscored by two goals so far this season. Their first period differential would have been worse but for the Islanders giving them two goals early last weekend. The team is much stronger in the 2nd and 3rd outscoring their opponents by a combined 15 goals those two periods.

1ST 22 22 -2
2ND 27 17 +10
3RD 19 14 +5
OT/SO 3 3 0

So how often do they Thrasher come out of the 1st period with a lead? Not as many times as they come out of the first behind. So far this season they have trailed after the 1st eight times and had the lead only seven times--which is really rather surprising when you consider they are currently up at the top of the standings. This is a team that often lets the opposition get the jump on them. As they move along in the game they get it going and they are leading more often than not after the 2nd and 3rd periods.

AFTER 1 7 8 4
AFTER 2 9 6 4
AFTER 3 9 4 6
AFTER OT/SO 12 7 0

As a fan I have to say that comeback wins are a lot of fun to watch, but as a analyst I know that they take a toll on your team. You have to expend more energy and you have to take more chances. If you get a lead you put the pressure on the other team and it is easier to play with a lead over the long haul. I would say this is the thing about the Thrashers that concerns me the most about the Thrashers at this point in the season.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Sorry I haven't posted much readers but my day job as a teacher of political science has had me focused on the Congressional elections at the expense of hockey lately.

The Thrashers face off versus Ottawa and it marks Heatley's return again. Last year after Heatley demanded to be released (which didn't happen of course) and was subsequently traded to Ottawa for De Vries and some guy named Hossa Thrasher fans were not sure what to think.

It didn't help matters from an Atlanta point of view that Heatley and Ottawa both got off to a red hot start while the Thrashers started off with their goaltender nightmare right out of the gate.

A year later Heatley and Ottawa are off to a slow start while Atlanta is red how and Hossa is among the NHL leaders in scoring. I think most ATL fans don't miss Heatley all that terribly and are satisfied with how the trade worked. Honestly I think Don Waddell got close to the maximum return possible when put into a tough situation of trading his star player.

Ottawa is still dealing with turning over their entire 2nd line from last year and losing Chara and replacing Hasek with Gerber. I still think they finish in the top 4 by the end of the year. Will the Thrashers also be in the top? I don't know, but this a good measuring stick game--can they beat Ottawa and prevent them from getting back on track?

Friday, November 03, 2006

October: Who drew penalties and who took them

If you check your standard NHL boxscore you can easily find out which players took penalties. Total PIM is a stat that you easily find on many websites. However, information on who drew the penalty is simply not recorded for the most part. A few years ago the expanded boxscores began listing this information but it is very incomplete. Some games have no penalty drawn information and some boxscores have it for certain penalties but not for others.

So this season, with the aid of my handy new DVR I dedicated myself to keeping this particular statistic for the Thrashers. With the exception of 5 penalties from the 2nd game of the year versus Florida (which was not televised locally and I forgot to record the CenterIce feed) I have gone through and carefully watched every single penalty where the penalty drawn data was missing from the boxscores. One thing I should note is that I only counted penalty minutes that gave one team a man advantage--i.e. off setting penalty situations are ignored.

The October totals are now complete so I thought this would be a good time to post them. Looking at both penalties drawn and taken can give you a different perspective. For example, both Slater and Mellanby have taken a lot of penalties in October, but Slater has drawn nearly as many minutes as he has taken. On the other hand, Mellanby's -10 minutes means that he has put the opposition on the power play 5 times more often than he has put his own team on the power play.

The team leaders in net positive minutes where Hossa (no surprise) and Rucchin (excuse me!) who each drew a net +10 minutes. The Rucchin numbers come as a big surprise to me as I simply don't remember him drawing that many--it goes to show you why it is valuable to actually count something like this. Sim is another guy who surprised me a bit seeing him this high on the list. He's not a checking line agitator but he has drawn 16 man advantage minutes for far this year--as many as Hossa. The other Thrasher with significant plus rating was Slava Kozlov which is not surprising as he is a slippery skilled guy who draws attention from the other team and he rarely takes a penalty. I was a bit surprised to find that Kovalchuk wasn't higher on the list, but he just hasn't drawn all that many man advantage minutes so far. I would expect that he will rise as the season progresses.

HOSSA 16 6 10
RUCCHIN 14 4 10
SIM 16 10 6
KOZLOV 9 4 5
DE VRIES 6 4 2
VIGIER 4 4 0
LARSEN 2 4 -2
SLATER 15 18 -3
HOLIK 12 18 -6
HNIDY 0 6 -6
SUTTON 2 8 -6
HAVELID 4 14 -10
MELLANBY 0 10 -10
EXELBY 2 16 -14
BENCH 12 4 +8

Which players are putting their team at a disadvantage? Well Exelby heads the list with a -14 net minutes which is hardly surprising given his on the edge hitting style. Since he is rarely involved with the offensive play he doesn't drawn many penalties either. In fact, defensemen take four of the five bottom spots in terms of having negative numbers--which is probably a function of the defense position. There are times where it makes sense to take a penalty to prevent a scoring chance and defensemen are going to face that situation more often. And then of course it is hard for a defensemen to draw a penalty in their own zone since the offensive team's players are usually more focused on making plays with the puck.

Holik has taken a boatload of penalties so far, but like Slater he has been able to off set those by drawing a surprising amount of man advantage minutes for his squad.

Well it will be interesting to see how this list changes as I track this numbers over the course of the season.

(note: some readers may observe that Slater and Kozlov each have an odd number in the penalties drawn. This is from a game versus Florida where their goalie covered the puck outside the crease and was given a delay-of-game penalty. I watched the replay several times and it seemed to me that Slater and Kozlov where equally close to the Florida goalie so I choose to split credit between them and give each of them 1 minute drawn.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween Arrives a Day Late: Thashers without Havelid

In case you missed it Havelid has returned home to Sweden to be with his mother who is ill. I wish his family the best at this time.

How do you transition from a serious family situation to talking about sports? Unlike Sportscenter I can't switch from the somber background music to something more upbeat. Hmmm.

Anyway, I hope the Thrashers play well tonight despite the adversity but I'm fairly worried about the outcome. Lehtonen hasn't looked razor sharp of late and I wonder if he needs a rest. With Havelid gone, Andy Sutton will be exposed for the goalie screening immobile player that he is. (The wicked side of me hopes he is -5 with Havelid away so we stop getting all the Sutton happy talk.) Throw on top of all that the dreaded "first home game after a long road trip" slow start and add a resurgent Hurricanes team and it all spells loss to me.

I will not see it in person since I'm playing hockey, but the DVR will get a workout when I get home. I expect Sutton to make the list of goals against goats at least twice.

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