Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hedberg is Hot

I drove up to see Chad Denny play for the Gladiators last night but I think he only played 1 shift in both the 2nd and 3rd periods and the team lost. I watched the Montreal-Atlanta game on tape delay and the game was another barn-burner contest. I find it ironic (or perhaps tragic is a better word) that the three best Thrasher games all season have NOT been televised locally. The wins over Toronto, Chicago and Montreal were tough tight contests that kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. It is a shame if you missed this one and a reason to think about getting CenterIce (or bringing a pizza over to my house).

Some keys to this game: Hedberg was rock solid. Consider his recent streak:
  • Montreal 2 regulation goals against
  • Chicago 2 regulation goals against
  • Nashville 2 regulation goals against
In the modern NHL if your netminder can keep his goals against average down to around two per game your team has a strong chance of earning points every night.

The defense and penalty killing were also rather strong. I plan to sit down and compare the first six games to the last six. It is obvious that the team is playing better but which players have turned their season around? I'll have more to say about this topic, but one hint can be found by looking at the distribution of the ice time among the defensemen last night:
27:33 Enstrom
24:20 Exelby
22:51 Klee
22:07 Havelid
13:27 Zhitnik
11:11 Popovic
Scratch McCarthy
Twelve games into the season Zhitnik has been demoted to the third pairing and Enstrom moved up to number one in ice time. I'm all for keeping players accountable and I can't argue with these changes. But in the long run this team needs Zhitnik to play better and earn some more minutes so that a rookie from Sweden doesn't have to carry such a heavy load on his shoulders.

The Thrashers had numerous quality scoring chances and Carey Price was very sharp in net to keep his team in the game when the Thrashers jumped out to a 17-3 edge in shots early on. Montreal climbed back into the game offensively with power play chances but overall it was probably the best performance by the team on both sides of the puck all season.

The surprise of the game came at the end when Coach Waddell idled Marian Hossa in favor of Bryan Little. Now Little and Montreal goalie Price played on the same WJC team and perhaps Don Waddell was counting on Little having some inside knowledge about where to shoot on him. If that was the plan it worked to perfection as Little gave the Thrashers an early lead in the shootout and Kovalchuk finished it off by going high glove side. As the TSN announcers said "You can know that Kovalchuk likes to go high glove side in advance and that knowledge doesn't make any difference because of his release."

The Thrashers dug themselves quite a hole with the 0-6 start and they have put together a nice little 4-2 run since then. They're not back up with the playoff contenders but they have crawled out of the basement and are just three points back of the playoff cutoff line.

The team is now 3-2 so far on the 7 game road trip. Personally I think a 4-3 road trip would be a successful one considering the teams they have faced on this trip. Ottawa is red hot and will be tough to beat and the Thrashers regularly struggle in Tampa Bay. The guys need to get one win in the next two games and then make hay when they return home.

Edit: Ben has a more complete game summary over on the blueland blog. One thing that he highlights is Kozlov's steal and goal. That makes two games in a row where good defensive play has given Atlanta a crucial lead. In the Chicago contest Kovalchuk swiped a pass and fed Kozlov at the front of net for a momentum shifting score.

3 Comments:

  • Thanks for the post. I don't have any of the NHL packages, so I really appreciate the information. I read somewhere that Zhitnik is a slow starter. Of the top of your head, is there any statistical evidence to back that up?

    By Blogger Michael, at 2:04 PM  

  • Last year he started off with a decent plus/minus with NYI (a playoff team), then had a bad plus/minus on a bad PHI team, then had a good plus/minus on a playoff ATL team.

    The season afer the lockout he had an even plus/minus in OCT and a negative one in NOV.

    Now plus/minus has some flaws, but a quick peek suggests that rather than being a "slow starter" Zhitnik might be more accurately described as "streaky" or "hot and cold". We need him to heat up of course.

    By Blogger The Falconer, at 5:05 PM  

  • Thanks for checking. After last season I thought about buying a Zhitnik jersey (I don't currently have a Thrashers jersey) but maybe I should consider an Enstrom or Popovic.

    By Blogger Michael, at 8:44 AM  

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