Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Putting the Power back into the Power Play

Way back in the first days of the Thrasher franchise Don Waddell told us that immediately after games he and Curt Fraser would go into a room so that Fraser could cool down a bit, otherwise he would likely rip into them and say things would completely alienate the players. I felt a lot like Fraser after the last minute loss to Philadelphia. I went home steaming mad and really wanted to just let rip with some choice comments. For whatever reason the wireless network at my house was all cranky and I didn't post anything before leaving to go play rec hockey.

After working out some of my frustration out by playing the sport I love, I calmed done and put my analyst hat back on and realized that the Thrashers had actually played a rather strong game--especially at even strength. They nearly out shot the Flyers 2 to 1 and they greatly out chanced them. The game turned on two factors: an outstanding performance by Nittymaki in net (even better than the recent Huet show) and the ineptness of Atlanta's power play.

So I started writing some comments about the Thrashers power play but I didn't finish them before Tuesday's game versus the Devils. The funny thing is that virtually everything I was going to critique, the Thrashers fixed (or at least improved) on Tuesday night. Here's my list of what has been ailing the team.

1) Too much standing around, especially on the 5-on-3's. When offensive players are stationary it makes things very easy for the opposition penalty killers. This is true in bantam hockey, rec hockey and NHL hockey. Movement opens lanes and/or causes the PK unit to make coverage mistakes.

2) Too much passing and hoping for the perfect play to develop. Sometimes you need to just put the puck on net and crash for rebounds because you have a numerical advantage. Last year when Detroit's power play was tops in the league I was surprised to see just how quickly they put the puck on net during their PP. The Wings have many gifted passers but they seldom passed it more than 3-4 times before someone just let one rip and everybody attacked the slot area looking for rebound chances.

3) Players have to shoot even if the opportunity isn't just perfect. Kozlov in particular has been guilty of never shooting and opposition PKers don't need to defend him. Kovalchuk needs to just put the puck on the net when he gets a pass even if it means taking a wrister instead of a slapper. When he doesn't get a perfect pass he dishes it back to the other defenseman and waits for a 2nd attempt, but by then everyone in the building knows what is coming and his shot rarely gets through on net.

Well all of these things that I was concerned about Atlanta corrected in the New Jersey game. I hope that the player movement, quick shots and willingness to crash the slot continue into the future. I don't understand why we had to 0-16 on the power play before these changes were made, but I like the end result. The coaching staff will need to be more pro-active when we get into the playoffs.

The game versus the Devils was simply terrific. Someone on the post-game show said it was one of the most entertaining games all year in Atlanta and I have to agree. 80 total shots, 8 total goals, some good hits, some good saves and some great back checking.

Glen Metropolit's goal in particular was a thing of beauty and Kovalchuk's kid-in-at-Christmas reaction was also great to see. Kozlov's shootout goal was one of the more dramatic. "Dominate" is a word that is frequently overused in sports, but right now Kozlov really is able to dominate NHL goaltenders and it is a thing to behold. I thought that the Thrashers passed the puck as well as they have all season. They seemed very focused and in control for most of the contest. I'm not a big Sutton fan but he looked OK in live action.

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