Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Thrashers Rebound with Two Wins.

The Thrashers have put together their first consecutive wins of the season. That streak will immediately be tested by a tough Buffalo team on Friday night.

What does this mean? On the one hand the Thrashers have righted the ship after two ugly losses in three games. The effort and intensity returned and they again looked like a competitive and entertaining team. On the other hand the Thrashers have only done what they must do. They beat two of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference.

The truth of the matter is that November is the easiest month on the schedule and if the Thrashers are going to make this an interesting season the absolutely must exist November with a winning record. If you divide the NHL into upper, middle and lower thirds (as I do) the Thrashers face these bottom rung clubs this month: FLA, NYI, CBJ, TOR, STL and these middle of the pack clubs: CAR, CAR, PHI, NSH and these upper tier teams: NJD, BUF, PIT, WSH.

Atlanta probably needs to take 4 out of 5 against the bottom clubs to make this a successful month. The next five games are HUGE. Compared to other months November is not as difficult but the next five games versus BUF, CAR, CAR, PHI and PIT will be a crucial test. The Thrashers need to find a way to get 6 points out of a possible 10 which would then put them in a good position to pick up even more points against the weaker teams in the later part of the month.

Here are the current Eastern Standings adjusted for games played.
(Points above or below games played)
+7 NYR
+7 MON
+6 BUF
+4 BOS
+3 CAR
+3 PIT
+3 NJD
+2 WAS
+1 OTT
+0 TOR
+0 TBL
-1 PHI
-2 FLA
-3 ATL
-4 NYI

Bruce Levenson: "It's way too early. I think we're three games out of first place,"
Actually we would need to win six more in a row to get into first place in the division.

Who is doing what? The last two home game I got out my handy yellow note pad and tried to track every single time the Thrashers possessed the puck. I noted who made bad passes, who failed to catch good passes, who cleared the defensive zone, who failed to clear the defensive zone, who attempted shots and so forth. I tried this a few times last season.

It requires a lot of concentration to track every pass made during a game--but it also helps you get away from personal biases. Like anyone, I have players that I like and those I don't like so much. But when I track passes I just write down what happens regardless of my feeling for the players.

So what did this exercise teach me?
Exelby is making many fewer turnovers than last season. When I tracked puck possession last year I was just stunned by how often Exelby would dump the puck into the neutral zone or fail to make an outlet pass. The good news is that he has largely stopped dumping the puck out to center--because now he passes almost exclusively to Hainsey who then makes a good outlet pass. I'd say in the Florida game 85% of Exelby's passes went to his D partner.

In the Florida game the Williams-Christensen combo were just brutal in the first period. When those two were out on the ice, the puck stayed in the Atlanta zone most of the time and when they did clear their defensive zone they quickly lost possession of the puck. Their puck possession improved in the 2nd and 3rd periods.

Jason Williams in particular was pretty much a black hole in the Florida game, he either couldn't catch a pass, couldn't make a pass, lost control of the puck or was checked off the puck. It was a pretty amazing display of badness out there. Fortunately he was significantly better in the Islanders game, but he still losses possession of the puck far too often for a guy who is supposed to have top six forward talent.

Kovalchuk is also a big source of turnovers. He tries some high risk passes and he also just makes some dumb decisions out there at times--he tries drop passes when everyone on the ice is looking for him to shoot the puck.

The Kozlov-White-Little consistently makes good passes and good decisions out there. They pass efficiently and they stay in their lanes opening up the offense. When they do dump the puck into the offensive zone they are able to jump into the corners and win the puck back much of the time. The question in my mind as I was tracking puck possession was this: Why is the Kovalchuk line getting 80% of the PP time when the Kozlov-While-Little line is playing some great hockey right now? They ought to split those power plays 50-50 and send out the 2nd line halfway through.

I'm increasingly of the opinion that Colby Armstrong may be the most underrated player on the Atlanta Thrashers. When he is on the ice good things happen--regardless of who he plays with. Last time I ran the numbers he was the most effective PK forward. At ES his season total Corsi number blows away any other forward on the team.

Schneider Out and Valabik In
So Schneider get dinged up in practice and Valabik was called for tonight's game. I'm not sure when Valabik arrived but he looked brutal. In played just 9 of the 60 minutes of the game and was on for 2 goals against. He was just standing there by the net doing his best Andy-Sutton-as-a-pillar-of-salt impression on the first two Islander goals and then he took a unnecessary penalty that gave the Islanders another opportunity to add to their total. The Thrashers got back into the game in the 3rd and Boris played just 2 minutes in the final 20.

I'm hoping he was just nervous or arrived at the last minute and will look better the next game (Schneider is expected to miss three according to the team). As I recall he looked pretty rough in his first NHL game last year and then seemed to settle down and relax after that. I do worry about how he will look matched up against Buffalo's speedy forwards--if he just stands around it could be quite ugly.

Your Corsi Numbers for the Florida Game
(Net shots fired while at even strength while that particular players was out on the ice--were you out chancing the opposition or being out chanced?)

+9 Pavelec -
The Thrashers were really out played the Islanders at even strength last night.

Havelid +4
Enstrom +9

Hainsey +8
Exelby -3

Oystrick -2
Valabik +1

Kozlov -1
White -1
Little 0

Christensen +1
Williams +2

Armstrong +8
Reasoner +6
Thorburn +6

Slater +2
Boulton 0


  • Television announcers advised that Boris was told he had 90 minutes to get to the airport if he wanted to play last night. They advised it could be a rough stretch flying in fron Chicago, playing in Atlanta, sleeping in Buffalo in one day.

    By Anonymous John Kincade, at 9:29 AM  

  • Falconer,

    Always enjoy your insightful blogs. A little confused about your Williams/Christensen/Kovalchuk line analysis. Saw that you didn't like Williams in the 1st florida period. How do you feel about their potential going forward?

    I'm no expert but I was at both games this week and despite a beer per period both games I concentrated on the play more than usual since I was by myself.

    I thought the W/C/K line looked extremely skilled and promising. I'm "hoping" that they will continue to gell and start to click soon. If Christensen can ever finish even his easy chances and Kovy can get on track, watch out!

    I actually found myself thinking of the Audette/Brunette/Ferraro line last night while watching W/C/K- could've been the beer, but is the A/B/F line the best/most consistent line in Thrashers history?

    Props to White-Little-Kozlov and let's keep our fingers crossed because as you said they really look solid.

    Also noticed Valabik seemingly staring at the puck at his feet unable to move shortly before NYI first goal.

    Oystrick is looking more and more comfortable. Will the Thrash have a tough decison to make when Bogosian comes back?

    By Blogger Tony, at 9:36 AM  

  • Falconer,

    Is there a statistic that measures a goalie's save % exclusively for even strength situations? I'm thinking that the save % must be artifically high for goalies on teams that take few penalties, such as Carolina. On the other hand, goalies that play for teams that are constantly on PK (and who do a poor job of killing penalties, but lets not name names)probably rank worse than they truly are. Your thoughts?

    By Anonymous d, at 11:27 AM  

  • If you want to make notes quicker during the game like that, you might make a chart with rows for players and columns for good play, bad play, etc. because after all, you want to watch the game, right? Unless you have Tivo and could do all this on a replay.

    By Blogger Thrashers Recaps, at 12:41 PM  

  • A bunch of comments today.

    kincade: Hopefully he will look much better in his 2nd game. Despite being a tough guy Boris is not all that mentally tough. During the intermission interview he was looking at the floor. He needs to be able to just shake off those bad plays and move forward.

    tony: I thought the Kovlachuk line looked much better in the Islanders game than the FLA game. They make too many pretty plays that do not result in shots. There is a lot of skill there, but they are missing each other quite a lot. Hopefully it is just a chemistry thing that will improve with time. I suspect that playing with Kovalchuk isn't the easiest guy to work with because he can be very unpredictable at times.

    As for the FAB line it was very good, but so was the Kozlov-Hossa combo from a couple of years ago.

    d: I know that some other hockey bloggers have broken down SV% into ES, PP and SH. I know that the Mudcrutch blog did that a while back. Goalie stats are their own animal and I don't work with them as much.

    Thrashers recaps: I could do that but I'd have to look down at my pad during the game and then I might loose sight of the puck. I can write a series of passes more easily like this: 14-17-9-17-14-SA (shot attempted).

    I could make a table after each game but that would be even more work. If there is a pattern out there on the ice I start to notice as I copy things down because I end up writing the same thing like:
    17-14-TO (turnover) or 9-14-17 LC (lost control of puck).

    By Blogger The Falconer, at 2:24 PM  

  • Falconer,
    I agree with your assessment of the powerplay. Why not have Kozlov, Little, and White lead it? They are doing so well. Kozlov and Little are 11th and 12th in the NHL in goals, and lead the team. White doesn't have but 4 goals, but 11 assists are the most of any Thrasher. This line looks awesome!! I am so glad that all 3 are playing so well!
    Williams had 2 goals vs. Buffalo with the last one coming from a Kovalchuk shot and rebound in OT. But, Kovy is passing more than shooting. What do you think that is about? Usually, Kovy is shooting more. He seems to hesitate to shoot. Do you think he is not trying or is it maybe something new with Anderson's system? Christensen is making some good attempts, good assists, but no goals. I agree with you about Williams; he played great vs. Buffalo, but prior to that. He has been up and down.

    You are right about Exelby; I have also noticed that he is not just dumping the puck into the other team's defensive zone as much. He still has the lowest - rating of all defenseman, and is still making some errors that is leading to the other team's scoring at key times.

    In Blueland blog, we were talking about how Sterling was sent back to Chicago in favor of starting Boulton. I like Boulton, but we need forwards who can score more. Thorburn or Valabik should take up the slack as the fighter. Both of them can do the job quite nicely.

    Valabik looked better vs. Buffalo. I did not see all of the Islanders game, but I think you are right about Valabik; he seems nervous in his debut, but will settle down. I think that when Schneider comes back, they should keep Valabik up, and put Exelby down as a healthy scratch, and try it and see if the defense overall is better. I think Exelby is playing better, but if the only thing he does is automatically pass to Hainsey, then what will he do if Hainsey is not open? Is he going to make an effective pass to someone else? Is he going to think enough to make an effective pass? I am not saying Exelby is dumb, but he seems to be very impulsive with his pass choices. One other thing I notice, Exelby loses his stick quite a bit, and when he does, the other team scores or threatens because he loses control of his stick.

    I would really love to hear what you think about Kovalchuk and his level of play so far, Falconer.

    By Anonymous Steve, at 11:26 AM  

  • In the past Kovalchuk's numbers were inflated because he received more PP ice time than just about any other forward in the NHL. Kovalchuk has never been as efficient in terms of scoring with his ice time as say someone like Joe Thornton. Now that he isn't getting as much PP time people are seeing that he is not as efficient as other superstar level players.

    By Blogger The Falconer, at 3:56 PM  

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