Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why Perrin Chose Atlanta

New Thrasher Eric Perrin had offers from Detroit, Atlanta, Phoenix and the Islanders this summer. When he left Tampa his former coach trashed him in the press. To find find out his reasons go here.

Another interesting read is the new Thrashers Rookie Review over at Hockey's Future. There are some quotes I found to be amusing. When Brett Sterling says, "I like the guys I'm playing with" I thought to myself--no kidding, who wouldn't want to play with Ilya Kovalchuk and Todd White in the NHL?

Southeast Goalie Preview at SESO

There is a rundown of the Southeast Goalies over at SESO. You might want to check it out if you don't visit that site. There is some very interesting analysis on each goalie's strengths and weaknesses (hey Thrashers shoot high glove side on Denis!)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Vegas Rates the Southeast Division as a Tie

First, let me say that I'm not a gambler. Other than the occasional March Madness or Super Bowl pool I just don't bet on things. However, I must say that I do find it interesting to see what people who put their own money on the line think about the up coming season. So let's take a look at the over/under odds for the teams in the Southeast Division:

1. 92.5 Atlanta
1. 92.5 Tampa
1. 92.5 Carolina
4. 84.5 Florida
5. 77.5 Washington

So basically the professional odds makers think that it is a coin flip to see who will win the division. Wow, that should make for a wild season if it works out that way. There might be a lot of chewed down fingernails at Philips Arena if we have a three way tie heading into the final month of the season.

In reality luck will play a factor. Injuries (like Dan Boyle), trades, unexpected breakouts and slumps by key players will likely produce some separation between these three teams. I have to say that my own standings prediction model projects the Eastern conference playoff race to be insanely tight. A key injury will probably determine the outcome, just as injuries to Toronto and Montreal were significant reasons those two teams just missed out on the post-season while other teams like the Islanders and Tampa made it.

Here is the overall Eastern over/under as ranked by the professional odds makers:

The "Print the Playoff Tickets" Now Group
1. 105.5 PIT
2. 104.5 OTT
3. 103.5 NYR
4. 94.5 BUF
5. 93.5 TOR
5. 93.5 NJD
I think the Devils might finally slip this year after losing Rafalski. Their blueline is looking fairly unimpressive to me and that will put a lot pressure on their offense to score more and Brodeur to remain fantastic.

The "Wait and See" Group
7. 92.5 ATL
7. 92.5 CAR
7. 95.5 TBL
7. 92.5 PHI
11. 91.5 MON
Five teams battling for the last two playoff spots--that would be very entertaining and nerve wracking.

The "Are You Joking?" Group
12. 85.5 NYI
13. 84.5 FLA
14. 79.5 BOS
15. 77.5 WAS
Some people are really high on Florida to make the jump from playoff pretender to contender they need Horton and Weiss to each make another step forward in my opinion.

Brett Sterling Giveth and Taketh Away

A couple of observations from the final pre-season game versus the Florida Panthers. Both teams were lacking in intensity as everyone knows that they made the team and the real season begins in a week. Staying healthy was perhaps a priority for many players. Kari Lehtonen looked very sharp moving efficiently and staying square to the shooter. Last year he came out of the gate red hot and he certainly looked ready for the regular season last night. The checking line was buzzing all night and looked good. Slater was working very hard and did good things--he also just fell down when he tried to change directions at top speed--he has the very unusual combination of above average speed and below average balance on the team. He can explode down his wing, but if he tries to change directions look out this train is coming off the tracks!

If you were not in the building or listening to the game on the radio, the one thing that will not show up in the box score was Brett Sterling's hands. Specifically his ability to strip the opposition of the puck in their own end. I first saw him do this in the road game at Nashville and I thought to myself "nice steal there, but it is just the pre-season and these are not full time NHLers." Only he did the same thing in the pre-season home game against Nashville where he went in behind the net and just took the puck away from their defensemen. Well last night I saw him do this two more times and I must say I'm impressed, it is not that easy to rob a NHL defenseman of the puck.

On one play the Panthers defenseman was trying to carry the puck out from behind his own net. Sterling shadows him and somehow just stripped the the puck right off of his blade. He then curled right into the low slot and lifted a backhand shot that Vokoun saved. He did again later in the game although I can't remember the specific details now.

The stats tell me that Brett Sterling has scored at every level he has every played at, but what the stats can't always tell you is HOW a guy accomplishes this feat. I looks to me that Sterling is just one of those "sneaky" guys who isn't flashy but he seems to pop up out at the right place and make something happen.

It is early on, but I must admit that I'm really looking forward to seeing what Sterling will accomplish over a full NHL season.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rookies Galore

Both blog and have the final roster cuts which reveal that four rookies break camp with the big club.

Tobias Enstrom is hardly a surprise given his high level of play during the pre-season. I would have been shocked if they sent him down to the AHL. The real question is will they put him on the 1st or 2nd power play unit?

Brett Sterling is also not a surprise given that he has nothing left to prove in the AHL. He did his part by scoring during the pre-season and now has to demonstrate that he can put up points in the toughest hockey league on earth.

Mark Popovic has been on the cusp of becoming a NHL player for a long time. In fact, he probably would have played in Atlanta during the last two seasons if the there had been substantial injuries to the defensemen--but that group has been remarkably healthy in the two seasons since the lockout.

Bryan Little is perhaps a surprise. If he struggles the first few weeks he might still be sent down and LaVallee called back up. He was a bit too deferential early and Coach Hartley's call for rookies to step and demand a spot seems to have sparked his play in the last two exhibition games. He cashed in some of those chances in Florida last night. Hopefully, his confidence will grow so that he doesn't have stage fright playing in the NHL with superstar wingers.

The last remaining question remains lines--namely where does Holik fit into them? At the start of camp the coaches assembled what looked (to me at least) like the lines for opening night.

But if Little made the team I'm assuming you want him on a scoring line, probably between Hossa and Kozlov. So where to you put Holik? He's a natural center. I'd rather see the speedy Perrin-Dupuis stay together, so do you have him center the 4th line and move Slater to wing and scratch Boulton? This and other mysteries will be revealed in coming days.

Freaking Hilarious

I first saw it on The Pens Blog but I believe it was created by Barry Melrose Rocks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


No big essay today just a few comments on last home game.

Kovalchuk played very hard and could have easily have had a hat trick given the quality of his shots. Mason made a terrific save on the power play on Ilya. What really stood out to me last night was Kovalchuk's defensive positioning. In the past his defense has been more of the "I'm in the same neighborhood as my man" but last night he was actually shadowing his check closely enough so that he was in good position to stick check his man or steal the puck if they tried to pass there. If Kovalchuk plays his man that tight his coverage will discourage the opposition from even thinking about passing to his man.

Bryan Little put himself in spots where he could jump into the offensive zone using his great speed but he kept waiting too long to shoot and ran out of real estate. He stills looks like a diamond in the rough out there. He plays hard but needs to adapt to playing against adult men. He is easily bumped off the puck--which may reflect that the fact that in juniors he matched up against 16-20 year old guys and now he is going up against adult men in their 20s and 30s who are 6'2" and weight over 200 lbs. He could use lots of ice time in Chicago where he can refine those skills. He could be a HUGE midseason call up for Atlanta when/if injuries strike one of our top six forwards.

The Kozlov-Holik-Hossa line seemed to struggle to get much going all night. These guys are all veterans who are not fighting for a job so I will not get too concerned yet. Holik will need to stay out of the box more if he is going to play on a scoring line.

In the first period the Thrashers struggled at times to clear their own zone. I didn't keep track, but it seemed to me that this happened more often when Pilar and Kwiatwoski were out there, but even Havelid and Zhitnik started off slow.

Hedberg was both terrific and terrible in the same game. For those of you who didn't see the game, Hedberg tried to flip the puck along the end boards and failed the puck went right to a Nashville player which resulted in an empty net goal for the Predators. The rest of the game he made some great saves.

The Perrin-Dupuis-LaValle combination had another strong game. Perrin has shown both good defensive presence and some offensive skill so far this pre-season. He had another good scoring chance. Later he and Ilya were out and he made a terrific tape-to-tape pass that hit Kovalchuk right in stride and sent him flying for an opportunity.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Top 5 Most Intriguing Visitors

I started writing this blog over a year ago to give Thrashers fans some additional reading material. Other than the, Atlanta and occasional mentions on or The Hockey News there simply isn't that much written about the local NHL team. I'm happy to say that there are some very regular readers who come back over and over again. When I don't post for a while I feel guilty knowing that you're looking at the same old post.

But a few of my readers really make me scratch my head at times. For example, I can see the IP address of folks who view the blog and vast majority are from Georgia. I also receive some traffic from Chicago (home to the Wolves) and the Canada (not surprising). But here are the top 5 most mysterious Thrashers Talons readers.

1. I have a frequent reader who lives in Livingston, New Jersey. Is this someone who is from Atlanta attending a college up there? Or is this an Atlanta native in exile? This blog writer would like to know (feel free to email me sometime using my gmail account if you are too shy to post--it is on my profile page). Maybe you're just sick of watching the Devils and like to watch the exciting Atlanta Thrashers team? Or maybe this is Gary Bettman's personal residence (hmmm)?

2. To my Los Angeles reader--what brings you here? I know LA is Brett Sterling's home town so maybe that is why you visit this blog now and then.

3. Kallax, Sweden--Are you a fan of Nic Havelid or perhaps Tobias Enstrom? I've never been to Sweden but I have to say that I think the name "Kallax" sounds very cool, it could be the name of a planet in a science fiction movie. The Thrashers have had a number of Swedes over the years including a family favorite in Per Svartvadet. Perhaps you are the poster "Demandred" from the Chicken, then again maybe you're not.

4. All those people who get here by typing "The Price is Right" into google. Ha ha! I used the logo from that game show in a post a long time ago and google still directs people to my blog because of that image. (note to self, work in more game show logos to increase random visitor traffic).

5. Those fans who get here by typing "kari Lehtonen girlfriend" into google. This made laugh the first time I noticed it, but it still happens now and again. This is not one of those gossipy rumor sites where I blab about players personal lives--I try to respect their privacy--but I did have Kari's girlfriend in front of me in line once and posted about it and that single comment continues to produce the occasional new reader. Perhaps those readers hope to displace the incumbent, I don't know, but it does make me chuckle.

Welcome to New York

Former Thrasher Andy Sutton was one of 10 players involved in a pre-season brawl in NYC.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The New Guys II: The Forwards

Here is part two of my look at the new guys (note: this was written before Bartovic was sent down).

Little: He shows flashes of good things like his speed and passing ability but he is too inconsistent to center a top two line in the NHL today in my opinion. He also seems to get knocked out of the play rather easily when things get physical. Starting the year in Chicago and receiving lots of ice time against adult men is probably best for his long term development.

White: Honestly I've a touch disappointed in what I've seen out of him so far. Hopefully we see a bit more when the regular season starts. I thought that the Kovalchuk-White-Sterling line should have shown a bit more offensive flair against a prospect laden St. Louis lineup. Based on the stats from the last two seasons Todd White should a modest improvement on what Eric Belanger brought to the table last year so I'm holding out hope of seeing more from him as the season opens.

Sterling: First I have to say that I'm a fan of any player his size who is willing to put himself into the high traffic areas to score goals, so I'm rooting for him to make an impact this season. Brett Sterling is not blazing fast but he did put himself in position to be part of a 2 on 1 in the St. Louis game. He made a nifty play late in the third where he bumped a bigger Blues player off the puck behind the Blues goal and then centered it through the crease--which was devoid of Thrashers unfortunately--but I still give him kudos for the moxie to pull off that play.

LaVallee: He's aggressive, he works hard, he hits, he forechecks. But it is a real mystery how he scored 40 goals in juniors. In the game at Nashville I swear he missed the net more often than he found it. He looks he could fill a spot on the 4th line right now or in the middle of the season if injuries open up a spot.

Bartovic: Saturday night Bartovic may have fulfilled his dream of playing on a line with his hometown friend Marian Hossa. Like all of the "skate with the stars" fantasy camps this joy ride has come to its logical end as he is not a top six NHL forward. Too often the offense seems to end when the puck reached him.

Perrin: I really like this addition so far. The Perrin-Dupuis duo could draw many penalties from the opposition this year. He also shows some surprising offensive flair. Some folks on the Tampa boards were complaining about hands of stone but I've been pleased with him so far. With Perrin, Dupuis, and Hossa killing penalties I expect an uptick in short handed goals this coming season.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

What I did at Training Camp

Here are some pictures I took recently at the pre-season Thrashers game and open practice.

Atlanta Thrashers fans show their support on the road.
Bobby Holik chills with supporters.

Coach Hartley directs the traffic at practice.

Ilya primed and ready to unload a shot.

Enstrom up close.

Fans take in open practice.
This jersey is just purrrrfect. This cat is ready for the season to start!

The New Guys Part I: Defense

I've now had a chance to see the Thrashers play two exhibition games and here some thoughts on the defense so far. Since it is just two games these comments come from a small sample size which means I'm likely to be wrong about something in the long run. Nevertheless as someone once said: "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

Oystrick: I know that the family and friends of players may end up reading this blog entry if they google his name, but I have to say that so far Nathan Oystrick has just been a mess in terms of his positioning on the ice. In both the Nashville and St. Louis games he made an error that directly contributed to a goal by the opposition. Sometimes he runs around trying to do too much when he should just stay in his lane and let the play come to him. Other times he seems to just stop skating and watch his partner. I must say I'm amazed that he could have played a full season in Chicago last year and look this bad in the Thrasher games so far. Maybe he is trying too hard to impress and is getting away from what made him successful last year.

Klee: In the interest of full disclosure I was not at all excited when Atlanta signed him this summer. I watched the young Ken Klee in his early days with the Washington Capitals and he seemed little more than a journeyman defenseman. I was very concerned about his footspeed after a season where Sutton and de Vries were members of our top four defensive rotation for most of the year. Now it is just one exhibition game, but I have to say that I might have been wrong about this one. Nobody will confuse Ken Klee with a speedskater but he seemed adequate against some hard charging kids last night. But what really impressed me the most was the small things he did to facilitate the offense. He was very decisive in the way that he distributed the puck. In the offensive zone he showed a good awareness of who was open and made accurate passes to get the puck to that person. By the way the stats back up this observation, when Klee was on the ice his team's offense was more productive than normal last year.

Pilar: His lumbering skating style is frighteningly reminiscent of Andy Sutton. Pilar did some nice things in the game at Nashville but I just don't think he is mobile enough to be a regular in the post-lockout NHL. With the current rules on obstruction I can just see guys like Briere and Alfredsson undressing him like a cheap mannequin. He is guy you would only want to see on the ice against the opposition's third or forth lines.

Enstrom: I praised him in a full post this week so I'll try to keep this one short lest I be accused of developing a man crush on him. In both the Nashville and St. Louis games he played stronger each period. His puck handling skills are simply better than any other defensemen on the team aside from Zhitnik. His puck position skills are such that he looks like we just stole him from the Detroit Red Wings: tape-to-tape passes, no stupid dump plays, hitting people in stride, etc. He briefly changed positions on the power play and made two perfect passes that led directly to Kovalchuk one-timers. How many times last season did we see Kovalchuk decline to attempt a one-timer on the power play because the puck was not placed right in his wheel house. If those two guys end up being a blue line combination expect a nice assist total for Enstrom and more PP goals for Ilya. Again, he is so small that the Thrashers will likely give up some goals against every now and again because of it, I'm willing to take that chance.

McCarthy: (OK so he's not a new guy but I have a comment) With Zhitnik and Enstrom around McCarthy might not see much time on the power play unit anymore. In the past, Hartley has also entrusted Havelid with some power play time and Ken Klee might have more offensive upside than McCarthy. The Thrashers defense could be significantly better this season as Zhitnik/Klee/Enstrom replace Sutton/de Vries/Vishnevski and McCarthy might have to fight for his ice time.

Valabik: It is no secret that I'm not a big fan of his but he has stayed away from unnecessary penalties so far in the pre-season. He was paired with Oystrick in Nashville and I'd like to see what he looks like playing with a veteran partner rather than a struggling prospect.

Popovic: He hasn't dressed in either game that I've seen so I'm looking forward to seeing him in action this week.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Enstrom Makes An Impression

It is 4 am as I write this after a long drive home from Nashville, but I didn't want to hit the hay before posting a quick note about Tobias Enstrom. Simply put he really turned my head tonight. The Thrashers didn't dress any of their top 5 NHL defensemen and of the six guys fighting for a spot he stood head and shoulders above the rest.

This summer I was excited after reading about Enstrom but when he arrived at Prospect Camp I was a bit underwhelmed. Last night he looked much better. He passed very well and he displayed above average speed and hockey sense. His biggest problem is a lack of size which makes it hard for him to cover large chunks of territory in his own end.

Enstrom may not have figured in the scoring for Atlanta, but as the game progressed you could just see his confidence rising. He made some good plays in the 1st period but in the 2nd and 3rd he became more aggressive at challenging the opposition in the neutral (creating some turnovers in the Thrashers favor) and carrying the puck into the offensive zone off the rush to jump start the offense.

I was also impressed with the puck skills on the power. He made crisp accurate passes at the point that were not picked off. When the opposing penalty killers tried to pressure him he spun away from them and didn't panic or blindly dump the puck. He knew exactly how much time and space he had available and he waited until the last second before the window closed to make his pass (which reminds me a bit of Slava Kozlov's style). He played with poise and confidence.

I don't want to get overly excited after just one pre-season game but the man played with some real NHL flair last night and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing him skate again. Should he break camp with Atlanta he will certainly give up some goals against simply because he is small, but did display a willingness to be physical at times and showed no fear from bigger players out there.

(I notice that I have some readers from Sweden reading the blog. If there are any Enstrom fans please feel welcome to comment on his play.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pre Season Hockey

I was going to post about the stats from the first two pre-season games but there were no official stats on from the game up in Ontario. So after taking a quick glance at the super stats from the 1st preseason game and here is what I noticed.

Coach Hartley told all the rookies how many games they would play and that each of them would get a shot to prove themselves. In the first contest he really spread around the ice time to everyone, especially among the defensemen.

21:38 Popovic
21:33 Kwiatowski
21:09 Exelby
20:01 Pilar
18:23 Valabik
16:53 Oystrick

Only one of those guys has a NHL job nailed down and Hartley is giving three guys a serious look for the last two defense spots. Reading between the numbers I'd say Valabik and Oystrick are be heading back to Chicago.

On the offensive side of things Perrin was the star with two goals, but Colin Stuart was on the ice for all three of the goals that Atlanta scored. The top ice time recipients at forward were as follows:

18:23 Perrin
16:43 Dupuis
15:53 C. Stuart
15:07 Krog
15:02 Shultz
14:34 Slater

The top 6 forwards in ice time were 3 NHL players and 3 AHL veterans trying to crack the roster. Generally speaking the guys for juniors didn't get a lot of ice time (Holzapfel, Pospisil).

Now I'm off to Nashville to take in my first live game since last year. I'm looking forward to seeing the guys in action again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why the NHL will succeed in Atlanta

I wrote this essay as part of a debate over at HFboards about the viability of certain hockey markets. In the long run I am generally optimistic about the NHL in the sunbelt. I think that more than anything hockey in the southland needs two things: 1) competitive teams 2) time to develop local tradition.

One key advantage for the franchise here in Atlanta is the massive number of people who live here. The Thrashers don't need for everybody to become a fan, they just need enough people to love hockey.

Let's assume for a moment that 15,000 season ticket holders is goal of a NHL franchise. If you have that many STH you're going to sell out most of your games. What fraction of the local metro area would have to purchase season tickets to reach that goal of 15,000? Below are the fractions for each market. (I divided the 2006 metro population by 15,000)

Season Ticket Subscription Rate by Metro area

1/341 Toronto
1/242 Montreal
1/141 Vancouver
1/075 Ottawa
1/072 Calgary
1/069 Edmonton
(and for comparison's sake)
1/048 Quebec
1/046 Winnipeg
1/046 Hamilton

When I look at the numbers for Canada I'm absolutely convinced that the Toronto market could sustain a 2nd NHL franchise--much more so than the Quebec, Winnipeg or Hamilton (unless Hamilton can draw significant support from the Toronto Metro area).

USA Hockey Homeland
1/634 Chicago
1/418 New City (to support 3 NHL teams)
1/388 Philadelphia
1/298 Detroit
1/297 Boston
1/212 Minneapolis
1/186 St. Louis
1/161 Denver
1/158 Pittsburgh
1/115 Columbus
1/076 Buffalo

Hockey tickets have sold both well and poorly at various times in almost all of these markets over the decades. In the long term the Buffalo market may not be able to sustain that franchise unless it continues to draw strong local support from the local population and some fans from Ontario on a regular basis.

In theory Chicago should be able to support 2 NHL teams. If not for gross mismanagement that franchise would be rolling in ticket sale $$ every year given the size of that market and the history of hockey there.

People wonder if NYC metro can support three NHL teams, but if you look at the season ticket subscription rate it suggests that the can support three teams.

USA non-traditional Hockey Area
1/440 Dallas
1/432 Los Angeles (to support two NHL teams)
1/398 San Francisco-San Jose
1/364 Miami
1/353 Washington
1/343 Atlanta
1/269 Phoenix
1/180 Tampa-St. Pete
1/097 Nashville
1/066 Raleigh-Durham

The long term outlook in most of these southern markets is good when you consider that they need a much smaller fraction of their market's population to buy season tickets compared to say small Canadian cities like Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa. There is no sound reason to abandon these markets.

In fact, the evidence suggests that when these cities have playoff caliber teams tickets sell in these markets. But some of these cities like Atlanta have see a lot of bad hockey, while the city of Dallas has had a playoff team nearly every year. Tampa struggled through a decade of terrible teams and low attendance but now that they are competitive you see solid ticket sales.

In the long run I have some doubts about Nashville and Raleigh being able to support their franchises. They have passionate and loyal fans--I just worry that they will never enough of those fans in their building. For example, notice that Raleigh needs a season ticket subscriber rate comparable to that of Calgary and Edmonton. I seriously doubt we will see that in the long run.

Based purely on market size and general patterns of support in the tradition and non-traditional areas of the USA, I would submit that three cities are in long term danger: Buffalo, Nashville and Raleigh. Places most suitable for addition NHL franchises based purely on market size: Toronto, Seattle, Houston. (Please note that I'm not advocating any city losing their team, I'm just saying which markets have the great risk associated with their long term survival.

Back to my original point above. Atlanta needs a sustained period of competitive on-ice hockey and time to develop its own tradition and fan loyalty. Original Six markets like Detroit, Boston, Chicago and New York have had hockey for three or more generations. When I was a kid up north I remember talking to people who had watched Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull or Bobby Orr play for their favorite team. Atlanta needs time for the sport to put down roots and kids to grow up going to games with their parents or watching it on television. Thirty years from now you might be telling some bright eyed kid about the exploits of Marian Hossa or Ilya Kovalchuk who have long since retired and had their number hung from the rafters of whatever arena the team is playing in 2037.

Hockey will never replace college football or basketball in this region--but it doesn't have to succeed. Hockey just needs time to establish its own place in the local sports landscape--that and a few playoff wins would help too.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

It is Hockey Time Again

The Atlanta Thrashers opened up Training Camp this weekend which means that it is time for me to resume blogging again. Despite being sleep deprived because of a late hockey game the night before, I headed up to NHL camp for the first time. Here are few stat-free observations.

I have to say that Eric Perrin caught my eye. He is smaller than I remember from Tampa Bay games but his speed is very good. To be honest I'm very bullish about the checking line of Larsen-Perrin-Dupuis. I think that they have the speed to stay with any opposition line in their own end. That speed will also come in handy in the offensive zone where I expect that some lazy opposition players will resort to hooking them if Perrin or Dupuis get a step on them. I can see this line drawing many power play chances for the club.

The "fast-break offense" line of Kovalchuk-White-Sterling was another group I was very keen to seen in action. Kovalchuk's production took a step back last year and a big chuck should be attributed to inferior line mates. I really like the potential of this group as well. Brett Sterling has played with talented linemates and he knows how to pass as well as shoot. He's not terribly fast but I can imagine him getting some goals as the high trailer if Kovalchuk and Todd White bust up the ice at Mach Four. I didn't focus as much on White and when I did watch him I was expecting to see more speed from him. Then again, it was just practice so I'm eager to see him perform at game speed. By the way, when I was crunching numbers this season White has performed at a very high level on the power play in recent seasons so perhaps he could perk up our first unit.

Bryan Little looked solid but he was playing with two other prospects so it is hard to know how he would have done centering two talented NHL caliber players.

Tobias Enstrom makes great passes but I worry about his ability to cover in his own end. Even when he is in the right spot he is so small he has trouble protecting all the passing lanes with this stick.

It is going to be terrific having Alexei Zhitnik all this season. His shots from the point on deflection drills are always hard and low and he seems to get them away with a minimum amount of effort.

Goalie Dan Turple was absolutely shelled by the "half-court offense" line of Kozlov-Holik-Hossa. Good to see that line in top form. Hossa had one play where he had his back to the net--he receives a pass to his forehand--then he spins and delivers a backhand roof shot in one quick motion. I've watched this guy for two seasons and you still forget how sneaky fast he can be out there on the ice.

Well there is a lot of hockey ahead with many twists and turns along the way but it feels good to see the season get underway.

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