Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thrashers Players After 10 Games

2008-2009 Season Corsi Numbers
(Net Shots Attempted at ES while that players was on the ice)
-32 Team

Defense
+16 Exelby
+8 Bogosian
+8 Oystrick
+1 Schnedier
-4 Hainsey
-45 Havelid
-52 Enstrom

Comments: Well the Swedish D pair is getting badly outshot. Keep in mind that these number numbers for shots fired at even strength only. Now it is possible that the Enstrom-Havelid pairing are being matched up against the other team's top line, but they are still allowing too many shots. The Swedish D pairing has been out shot badly at ES in both the first five games of the season and the next set of five game (-28 and -24 for Enstrom).

Exelby was a strong +16 in the first 5 games but has slipped to -8 in the next five games, the same pattern is there for Hainsey (unsurprisingly) who was +4 in the first five and -8 in the next five. Schneider on the other hand started off -5 and then went +6 in his next five games.

Forwards
+26 Armstrong
+6 Perrin
+4 Kozlov
+3 Reasoner
0 Christensen
-4 Sterling
-11 Williams
-12 White
-14 Slater
-19 Kovlachuk
-20 Boulton
-20 Thorburn
-28 Little

Comments: What Colby Armstong has done is nothing short of amazing. On a team which has been out shot by 32 so far this season he is an astonishing +26 on the season. The Thrashers have out shot the opposition when Armstrong is out on the ice at ES in 9 of the 10 games to start the season (NJD is the one exception).

On the other extreme we find the Greek God line (Slater -14, Bouton -20 and Throburn -23) and the Kovalchuk line (Kovalchuk -19, Little -28 and White -12). This continues a trend from last season. Last year both Kovalchuk's line and the 4th line were badly out chanced at even strength.

Close But No Cigar...Again

The Thrasher played hard and were competitive against a better team...again. Here's a quick re-cap of the Thrashers record after 10 games.

7-4 WAS
2-3 FLA
2-4 MIN
0-1 NJD
3-2 BUF
2-3 TBL
3-5 DET (EN goal)
4-5 BOS
2-3 NYR

Basically the Thrashers have been involved in one blowout win and one blowout loss and all the rest of the games they were either tied or within one goal right up until the end of the game. (In the MIN game the score was to 3-2 until 18th minute of the third period).

People are flipping out on the official message boards. I guess if I expected this team to make major strides I might flip out too. But I never expected this team to make the playoffs this year. They look like a 85-88 point team to me and playoffs usually require 95 points. Yet, the guys have played hard in every game other than the Philly contest. They have been in every contest but the Philly game.

Last season's Thrashers club would have stumbled along for several games after a terrible blowout loss such as the Philly 7-0 game. This team came out and competed, they bounced back and did the good things they were doing prior to Tuesday night. That's the most I can ask as a fan (other than a win). Coach Anderson remarked that they have been a bit unlucky so far and I concur with that. They should probably have a couple more points in the standing but they haven't been able to finish off on some crucial scoring opportunities.

This team has more of a future than last year's team. We actually have some young players who could be on a Cup contending team in 2010. Last year we had too many guys who were destined to be out of the NHL by 2010.

Who is Playing Well On Special Teams?

[Editorial note: I wrote this before the Flyers game and I didn't feel like updating it after the 7-0 loss. Don't complain, I do this for free.]

In a typical NHL hockey game roughly one quarter of the contest is spent in special team situations. Some folks call these stretches "high leverage events" because the chances of a goal being scored a much higher than they are at Even Strength.

Right now the Thrashers rank 23rd on the PP and 22nd on the PK. Both could stand to be better of course. So which Thrashers are playing well and which are playing poorly so far?

In order to answer that question I came up with a system that looks at how the team does when that player is on the ice. Most readers don't care much for the math so I put the explanation down at the bottom of this post.

Penalty Kill Rating (Thrashers with 1 minute or more of SH TOI)
(Positive numbers indicate the TEAM was more productive when normal when that players was on the ice.)
+2.73 Eric Perrin
+1.85 Marty Reasoner

+1.44 Ron Hainsey
+1.40 Garnet Exelby
+0.36 Zach Bogosian
+0.27 Ilya Kovalchuk
+0.25 Nathan Oystrick
+0.09 Colby Armstrong
-0.22 Erik Christensen
-0.64 Todd White (includes one 5 on 3 goal)
-1.07 Tobias Enstrom (includes one 5 on 3 goal)
-1.14 Mathieu Schneider
-1.39 Jim Slater
-1.81 Slava Kozlov
-2.18 Nic Havelid (includes one 5 on 3 goal)

Note: I noted that three of the players have one 5>3 goal counted against them. Defending a 5>3 is much harder of course and being on for one of those goals should probably count less than a 5>4 but I don't have an easy breakdown of PK ice time by manpower situations so it is all lumped together on NHL.com.

Discussion: The best forwards are Perrin and Reasoner (not a big surprise) and the best defense are Hainsey and Exelby pairing. On the flip side the worst forwards so far are Kozlov and Slater (who was demoted from the PK early last season) and Havelid and Schneider.

Now before anyone gets too carried away with this analysis I must point out that the team has only played 8 games and therefore the sample size is tiny here. A lucky or unlucky bounce of the puck will distort these ratings a great deal early in the season. However, I will say that the ranking roughly reflect my impressions--I certainly expected Perrin and Reasoner to come out on top and I expected Slater to finish near the bottom. I'm a bit surprised to see Exelby doing that well but he has played much better so far this season after being partnered with Ron Hainsey. I'm also a bit surprised to see Havelid doing so poorly.

Power Play Rating (Thrashers with 1 minute or more of SH TOI)
(Positive numbers indicate the TEAM was more productive when normal when that players was on the ice.)
+2.97 Todd White
+1.20 Colby Armstrong
+1.04 Nic Havelid

+1.01 Slava Kozlov

+0.91 Tobias Enstrom

+0.75 Zach Bogosian
-0.06 Ilya Kovalchuk
-0.08 Eric Boulton
-0.09 Marty Reasoner
-0.89 Bryan Little
-1.13 Jason Williams
-1.30 Ron Hainsey
-1.48 Mathieu Schneider

-2.54 Erik Christensen

Discussion: You red hot players are Todd White, Armstrong, Havelid and Enstrom. The team has scored at a higher than expected rate on the PP when they have been out on the PP unit so far this season. Todd White might surprise people but he actually put up some very strong PP scoring rate numbers his last year in Minnesota before coming to Atlanta-so there is a track record of him being fairly effective with the extra man. Todd White has been on the ice for 5 of the 7 PP goals the Thrashers have scored so far this season. He's either extremely lucky or he's doing some good things out there--I'll go with the latter. Note to the Thrashers coaching staff--play Slava more on the PP and less on the PK!

As far as the ice cold players (Christensen, Williams, Schneider and Hainesy) I was a little surprised to see Hainsey but he's received a mountain of PP ice time and the team has potted just 2 PP goals in that stretch. Everyone who follows this team knows that Williams and Christensen are off to slow starts--but the depth of Christensen's struggles are pretty amazing. So far this season only Kovalchuk and Schneider have received more PP minutes and Christensen has been out there on the ice for a Thrashers PP goal just once in all those minutes. Based on the team average we would expect the Thrashers to have scored 2.5 more PP goals in those minutes. Note to the staff Erik Christensen probably shouldn't be your 2nd ranked forward in PP ice time--if I were advising the team I'd suggest Eric Perrin get a few more of Erik Christensen's PP minutes (Perrin has just 10 seconds on the PP this season).

Again, it is early in the season and lucky or unlucky bounces can certainly skew things in the short run. Even with that caveat, I think I learned a few things by doing this little research project.

How I calculated this: Basically for both the PP and PK situations I am comparing the number of Thrashers PP goals scored (or PK goals allowed) to the Expected Goals For (or Expected Goals Allowed) given the number of minutes played by each guy. So the first thing I did is gather the ice time stats and who was on the ice for every special teams goals from the boxscores. Then I calculated the team rate (PPTOI/PPGF) and used each player's ice time to find an expected goals number (PPTOI/ATL average Team PPG per minute) and then subtracted the actual goals from the expected goals (Actual PPG-Expected PP Goals) to produce a rating for each players based upon their special teams ice time and the Thrashers production when that particular player is on the ice.

Bogosian Out, Oystrick In

Zach has a broken leg. This means Oystrick will play tonight. It might also mean that Valabik gets called up from Chicago since most teams like to have an extra defensemen around.

This is a big opportunity for Oystrick to show he can play in the NHL. I've never been overly impressed with him in the AHL, but I am curious to see what happens.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Same Old Story, How Will it End?

The Flyers came to Atlanta and crushed the Thrashers...again. The Thrashers made an early mistake (turnover by Boulton) and then fell apart as everyone tried to freelance. The game was a stinker, I watched the third period at Taco Mac where I at least had the pleasure of eating a good meal and some the company of some other long suffering Atlanta fans (Flames fans even!).

Thursday is a major test for the Thrashers and Coach Anderson. The old Thrashers club would suffer a brutal loss like this and then struggle to regain their confidence. Quality teams are able to mentally turn the page after a bad game and get right back to doing the good things there were doing before. Will the Thrashers display that sort of mental toughness? They certainly were playing solid hockey before this game--can they turn forget about Tuesday night and get back to where they were before?

Can Coach Anderson get them back on track quickly? Coach Hartley and Coach Waddell certainly struggled to get the train back on the tracks here in Atlanta. The Wednesday practice has been moved to Philips Arena which means it is closed to public. It also means Coach Anderson can peel the paint off the walls if he feels that is necessary--without embarrassing players in public.

The last thing I have to say is this, how many times does Nittymaki need to outplay Lehtonen before Atlanta will realize they should start the backup against him. Nittymaki has beaten Lehtonen every time he has faced in the NHL. Back in 2005 Nittymaki and the Philadelphia Phantoms swept Lehtonen and the Chicago Wolves. If my math is correct that means Nittymaki has something like an 11-0 record versus Lehtonen if you look at their last 11 contests against one another. Please let's try Hedberg next time. It might not work but they really ought to give a shot.

Some Quick Hits

Ken Klee was claimed off waivers and will play for Phoenix. I certainly hope Gretzky remembers to send Brian Burke a bouquet of flowers in return for those cheap serviceable players (Brygalov, Klee) he has given the Coyotes lately.

I see that the announced attendance up in Columbus was just over 10,000. Keep in mind this is a northern (i.e. "traditional) hockey market. It just goes to show that fans in Columbus will not buy a poor hockey product forever, same as fans in Atlanta. "If you don't build it, they will not come."

Three good reads:

Why does the NHL get the shaft while NFL gets off free and easy?

NHL considering unorthodox moves to improve scoring

Alan Ryder shows what is really going on with scoring the last few years.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Kovalchuk Rumors

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa sun writes:

Talk among NHL GMs is that Atlanta might be willing to make a huge deal before the trade deadline. W Ilya Kovalchuk, 25, is a year away from unrestricted free agency and has another season left on his contract at $7.5 million, but the whisper among executives is he might become available. It would be a tough pill for Atlanta to swallow, but Kovalchuk certainly wouldn't be the first franchise player to be dealt.
I really hate having to write about this right now. The Thrashers are playing better than I expected. The last thing the club needs is another black trade speculation cloud hanging over them as was the case last year with all the Hossa talk.

Garrioch has a checkered history of these things. He's been terribly wrong and he's also been correct in the past. On the Thrasher Talons scale of rumor mongers he certainly comes in higher than Eklund.

The problem is this: no matter what the Thrashers say this kind of chatter will be out there until the Kovalchuk either re-signs next summer or a trade is made. There are no magic words that are going to make these trade rumors cease.

Do I believe there have been converstations where Kovalchuk's name was mentioned? Absolutely yes. I'm sure that GMs talk about players all the time just to get a feel for their market value at that moment. I'm not shocked to think that one GM says to another GM "what would you give me for player x?" What really matters is not that a phone conversion about Kovalchuk took place, but how serious that conversation was--and only the two people involved in that conversation know how serious it was.


Would trading Kovalchuk be a good idea? I've gone back and forth on this one to be honest. In my head the case for trading Kovlachuk runs like this: a) his defensive lapses are so bad that I believe he would probably cost his team a goal here and there in a tight playoff series--I'm not sure his offensive talent alone will get your team a Cup. b) Kovalchuk is a great player, but his stats are inflated because the Thrashers give him HUGE amounts of PP ice time. Kovalchuk is not early as effective with his ice time as other top NHL stars. c) The Thrashers are not close enough to contending and he probably wouldn't want to stick around until they are close to contending.

Would a trade help create a contender in this market? From a Marketing Department perspective trading Kovalchuk would be a disaster, but from a Hockey Operations perspective it might not be so bad. Why? The Thrashers will never be able to spend money like the best teams. The best chance to contend for a Stanley Cup is to load up on quality young players and have the team make a run before the core gets really expensive (age 27+). Once you generate some buzz in this market the revenues will increase and the money will be there to pay their salaries. The Thrashers have some good foundational players who are between the ages of 20-25, but the problem is that there are not ENOUGH of them--the foundation is not big enough for a contender. If you deal Kovlachuk for three young players now you might have the foundation for a contender in 2010.

What is the case for not trading Kovalchuk?
If you trade for young players who never make it, then you come up short big time. So far out of the Hossa trade only Colby Armstrong is a clear asset to the current team. Christensen continues his existence as a talented tease, Esposito may or may not become a NHL player and Pittsburgh's 1st rounder draft pick is four years away from playing in the NHL. That's one player and three maybes (and I'm only optimistic about one of those maybes).

The other consideration is that Kovalchuk has begun to show greater leadership skills last season when he carried the team on his back offensively and this season he has shown more improvement on the defensive side of the ice. Ilya will go from a star to a superstar level if he becomes a sound defensive guy. The potential is there, and it is too great to give up on.

What will happen next? If the Thrashers are having serious trade talks that means either that ownership is not willing to offer a $100 million Ovehckin sized contract next summer or that Kovalchuk has privately expressed concerns about re-signing in Atlanta. What I do know that if a decision has been made to move Kovalchuk the team will get the biggest bang for their buck by making a move sooner rather than later. If you trade Kovlachuk with nearly two years remaining, the club that acquires him is going to have two seasons to win him over and get him to re-sign there and thus they will be more likely to offer a better package. Hopefully this is nothing more than the usual slow week rumor chatter and I will not need to write about this topic again.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Little Perspective People

A few folks on the message boards are crying that the sky is falling after two regulation losses. I'm certainly disappointed in the outcome of the Boston game.

But if you take a hard look at the schedule so far so far, you will see that the Thrashers have had a run of fairly good opponents. I'll use the Vegas season over/under point projections for each team. Let's see how the Thrashers stack up to the opposition.

Washington 93.5, Atlanta 79.5
Florida 82.5, Atlanta 79.5
Minnesota 92.5, Atlanta 79.5
NJ Devils 97.5, Atlanta 79.5
Buffalo 91.5, Atlanta 79.5
Tampa Bay 91.5, Atlanta 79.5
Detroit 109.5, Atlanta 79.5
Boston 91.5, Atlanta 79.5

Now you can quibble with the Vegas projections (I see the Thrashers as more of high to mid 80 point team myself) but in none of these contests was Atlanta a strong favorite. The Thrashers have played well against some good teams and probably deserved to walk away with a couple more points than they have right now.

Mistakes Costly in Boston

Last night's contest up in Boston may have been the most entertaining Thrasher game so far this year. There were many warning signs heading into this game: playing on back to back nights, a rusty goalie, the potential for an emotional let down after facing Hossa and the Cup Champs.

Yet the team came out and played with great energy. The 4th line was getting regular ice time. The team finally broke through on the power play. After a lot of tough luck on the PP the puck comes right Ilya Kovalchuk who makes an amazing play by knocking the puck out of the air and into the back of the net. Hedberg made a couple of key saves early and the energy level and commitment from the players looked like it would carry them to victory over the Bruins.

But two things did in the Thrashers this night: officiating and youth. Regular readers know I don't spend a lot of time obsessing about bad calls. Officials make mistakes calling the world's fastest game and players simply to find a way to win within that context. Last night the NHL had all 30 teams playing and therefore used 15 different sets of linesmen and referees. I don't know if that had a direct effect on the Atlanta-Boston game, but there were some strange calls. Numerous players were whistled from some very marginal things and yet I saw two different hits from behind that were non-calls. Enstrom's penalty in particular was just a brutal call in my opinion.

The non-call on Chara's hit from behind on Armstrong was incredible. Chara hit Armstrong right in the middle of Coby's back. In youth hockey they have the kids wear little STOP signs on their back when they are learning how to check--if there had been a STOP sign on the back of Armstrong's back that's precisely where Chara made contact with him. Coby made an incredible play right after that to deflect the puck to Kozlov who released a laser quick shot to tie the game 4-4 at that point.

The Thrashers have shown terrific improvement in their defensive coverage. In years past it was not unusual to see someone wide open adjacent to the net. We hadn't seen that this season until last night. There was a play were Bogosian, Perrin and Slater simply didn't read the play the same way and a wide open man scored an easy goal. On the TV broadcast Darren Eliot seemed to think it was Bogosian who erred, I lean towards putting the blame on Perrin who he appeared to be coming back to take that man in the slot and then curled away to the side boards, Slater comes into the picture very late as the Boston player scores--I'm not sure where he was due to the camera angle.

On the game winning goal it was a simple mistake by Little that led to the Boston victory. With less than 2 minutes in the game the puck comes to Little on the side boards--he had time and space to chip it out of the defensive zone, but sees a hit coming and decides to keep the puck and curl back into his own end. The puck is jarred loose and Enstrom is suddenly faced with a two on one. Enstrom goes down to block the passing lane and the man with the puck roofs it over Hedberg. An ugly finish to an otherwise good game. In this game at least the Thrashers youth probably cost them a point. I'm glad to the young guys get their chance but there are going to be nights where this happens.

Corsi Box Score (ES Thrashers Shots minus Opposition Shots Attempted)

Team
-4

Defense
The defense pairings all received ice time against Detroit's Zetterberg and Datsyuk lines. 20:41 Schneider +1
16:41 Bogosian +2

19:38 Havelid -3
21:56 Enstrom -2

23:08 Hainsey -3
17:13 Exelby -3

Forwards
The 2nd line really won their ES battle and the 3rd line really lost out.
20:35 Kovalchuk -1
19:30 White -3
16:28 Little -4

12:36 Kozlov +8
11:35 Christensen +8
16:15 Armstrong +6

15:10 Perrin -10
15:25 Reasoner -8
14:00 Williams -9

08:26 Thorburn +1
12:35: Slater -1
07:28 Sterling +0

Real Eastern Standings (Points - Games Played)

This controls for differences in games played by teams
+6 BUF
+6 NYR
+4 MON
+3 NJD
+3 PIT
+2 CAR
+1 WAS
+1 BOS
---------- Playoffs
+1 TOR
+0 FLA
-1 PHI
-2 ATL
-2 TBL
-3 OTT
-3 NYI

Real Western Standings (Points - Games Played)
+5 SJS
+5 DET
+5 MIN
+2 STL
+2 COL
+1 EDM
+1 CHI
+1 CGY
--------------Playoffs
-0 VAN
-0 NAS
-1 PHX
-1 LAK
-1 DAL
-1 ANA
-2 CBJ

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Detroit Clearly More Crisp Than Atlanta

So this was my first time to ever see a Thrashers game in HD. I was invited over to watch the game at a friend-of-the-blogger and we all revealed in the joy of their new DirecTV HD setup. I have to say it was amazing that the viewer can actually see whether the puck is lying flat on the ice or if it is on its edge during the course of play. It really feels like you're sitting at the rink except that the annoying fan who sits in your section isn't there. One person joked that the NHL on HD is better than watching the game "with your own eyes" in person. I'm not sure I would go that far--there's no pasta bar or hot pretzels available at home.

As for the game the Thrashers performed better than I expected. The Red Wings are the runaway favorites this year after winning the championship and then adding Marian Hossa and retaining Brad Stuart on their blue line (they only added Stuart at last spring's trading deadline). Hossa essentially replaces Dallas Drake--no offense to Drake but that's a serious upgrade. On the other hand, nobody is picking your Atlanta Thrashers to win much of anything so on paper it was a mismatch of titanic proportions.

The Wings displayed their formidable talent by working the puck on the power play until they got a 2 on 1 right in front of the net where Zetterberg made a highly accurate shot to beat Lehtonen. Hossa showed the power forward moves we witnessed in Atlanta for another amazing goal. And before you knew it this game was 3-1 with the Thrashers picking up a once-in-a-Blue-Moon tally from Jim Slater (perhaps playing back at Joe Louis revived his MSU scoring touch?).

Just when it seemed to be over two late goals by Ron Hainsey (working hard to keep that #1 D rating I see) and Brett Sterling made it 4-3 and suddenly the Thrashers were close to stealing a point or more. But the Red Wings kept Atlanta off the board and picked up the empty netter to salt it away. There are no moral victories in the NHL, but this yet another game where the Thrashers exceeded my expectations. So far the Thrashers have taken on 5 likely playoff teams in their first 7 games and they have been competitive in each of those 5 contests.

Marty Reasoner was injured early in the 2nd and this led to increased ice time for Brett Sterling among others. Personally, I was glad to see him get that goal for multiple reasons. The Thrashers could really benefit from someone who will park themselves right in the crease and go for rebounds and screens. If Sterling has a role in the NHL he needs to become another Holmstrom in my opinion. Sterling isn't very fast--and neither is Holmstrom--but he has good hands and good scoring instincts. Much like Holmstrom Sterling is unlikely to amass big even strength point totals because he lacks that extra gear, but he could become a very valuable power play guy.

One more thing I wanted to toss out there for your consideration is this. The Thrashers continue to get out shot this season. Last night the allowed 43 to Detroit. I went back and tracked the shots on goal by situation through the first seven games and here is the break down.

Season Totals Through Seven Games
Even Strength Shots: ATL 162, Opposition 179= -17
Power Play Shots: ATL 54, Opposition 64= -10
Penalty Kill Shots: ATL 2, Opposition 14 = -12

It is that last one that really jumps out at me. The Thrashers are allowing 2 shorthanded shots on goal per game and yet creating a short handed shot once every three games. Not only has the Thrashers Power Play struggled to convert but they have given up a surprising number of SH chances. Last night in Detroit they allowed THREE short handed shots on goal.

On the flip side the Atlanta PK unit is not getting much pressure on the opposition net. Last year's squad had Hossa, Dupuis and Perrin who would all try to score short handed. Of those three only Perrin is on the current roster. I'm not sure what else to say about this, but I did find it a little surprising so I thought I'd pass it along.

Finally a word about match ups in the Detroit game. The Red Wings feature two great offensive lines centered by Zetterberg and Datsyuk. Their 3rd and 4th lines are not bad either with Filppula and Draper. Since this game was in Detroit they had the last change and the advantage of matching lines. So I made some comments below about who played against whom.

Corsi Box Score (ES Thrashers Shots minus Opposition Shots Attempted)
Team
Lehtonen -8

Defense
The defense pairings all received ice time against Detroit's Zetterberg and Datsyuk lines. 17:47 Schneider +1
14:06 Bogosian +1

21:24 Havelid -6
20:50 Enstrom +0

25:14 Hainsey -7
15:36 Exelby -7

Forwards
23:47 Kovalchuk -8
20:11 White -10
20:09 Little -7
The 1st line played mostly against Detroit's Datsyuk line. The Datsyuk line out chanced the Kovalchuk line by a rather wide margin. Kovalchuk has great speed and a great shot but so far he has not been very impressive at even strength season--last year he was very impressive in terms of creating ES scoring chances.

18:59 Kozlov -4
16:41 Christensen +4
18:12 Armstrong +5
The 2nd line played most of their minutes versus the Detroit's Zetterberg line.

11:25 Perrin 0
06:51 Reasoner +2
12:29 Williams +4
The 3rd line was matched against Detroit's Filppula line

09:15 Thorburn -2
1036: Slater -2
10:59 Sterling -4
The 4th was out shot mostly by Detroit's checking line centered by Draper.

Real Eastern Standings (Points - Games Played)

This controls for differences in games played by teams
+6 BUF
+5 MON
+5 NYR
+3 NJD
+3 PIT
+1 CAR
+1 FLA
+0 WAS
---------- Playoffs
+0 TOR
+0 BOS
-1 ATL
-1 TBL
-2 OTT
-2 NYI
-2 PHI

Real Western Standings (Points - Games Played)
+4 SJS
+4 DET
+4 MIN
+2 EDM
+1 STL
+1 COL
+1 CHI
+0 CGY
--------------Playoffs
+0 PHX
+0 LAK
-1 DAL
-1 CBJ
-1 VAN
-1 NAS
-2 ANA

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thrashers Deserving Some Praise

We are VERY early in the NHL season right but a couple of Thrashers are putting forth a strong effort which has staked the team to a 2-2-2 record, despite playing with one less superstar this season.

The website HockeyAnalysis.com has a ranking for forwards, defense and goalies. Right now their formula has the Thrashers own Ron Hainsey ranked as the #1 defensemen in the NHL. His high ranking is due to his outstanding defensive score (which will almost certainly decline with time). Kovalchuk ranks at the 13th best forward and he has not really heated up yet.

Kari Lehtonen gets comes out looking pretty good in this analysis by Tyler Dellow. He ranks all the goalies who have seen 2000 shots since the lockout and Lehtonen ends up ranking #11 out of 38 who qualify. If you want to see more about his method, click here to go to the post. I've always said that if you put Kari in front of a respectable NHL defense he would probably look like a star.

New Addition at Thrashers Talons



















In the past I have mentioned taking our Adventure Cat along on our 2006 road trip to see the Thrashers play in Pittsburgh and Buffalo. It turns out that Adventure Cat is really not all that adventurous and would prefer to stay home rather than ride in the car.

Well this last weekend we added a 2nd feline member to our staff as three month old Zydeco will be helping us out. She can't read or type but she is good at keeping a lap warm or amusing us after a tough Thrashers loss.

Her name is Zydeco as she is an evacuee from New Orleans who was brought to Atlanta before Hurricane Gustav struck the Gulf Coast. Time will tell if she is a good road trip companion but we already know she likes hockey. She was watching the games on TV several times this week.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thrashers Rally for Late Tie Point on the Road

Since this game was not televised there is little I can add if you listened to Dan Kamal's broadcast. It sounded like Lehtonen was very strong again as the Thrashers got off to a slow 1st period (out shot 18-5) but Atlanta clawed their way into a point with a strong 3rd period outshooting the Lightning 15-8. It was good to get a point, but White and Christensen messed up key scoring chances and Little took a costly penalty in OT, those mistakes resulted in a division rival receiving two standing points.

Speaking of Erick Christensen back at the Pre-Season Townhall Event I was talking with the gentlemen who operate the Blueland Chronicle and I expressed some doubts; "Christensen has been something of a tease so far in the NHL, everyone talks about him being stuck behind Crosby, Malkin and Staal at center (and it's true) but he has done very little with his ES and PP ice time so far in his NHL career."

Christensen is one of those players who shows "flashes" of skill but hasn't really established much of a track record of consistent production in the NHL. Many hoped that with consistent ice time and linemates he would have a break out season. Through six games of the 2008-09 season he is getting a steady diet of ice time at ES and has very little to show for it. This is year is big opportunity for Erik and so far the results have been underwhelming. Frankly Brett Sterling is probably deserving of a look--he has consistently scored at the AHL and the Thrashers 2nd line has been pretty quiet since Little moved up to Kovalchuk's line.

Another struggling players Jason Williams played a season low 11:55. Assuming that he wasn't injured it seems that the coaching staff is sending him a signal. Perhaps Sterling will dress and Williams will sit next game.

Corsi Box Score (ES Thrashers Shots minus Opposition Shots Attempted)
Team
Lehtonen +3

Defense
22:09 Schneider +2
13:38 Bogosian +5

22:11 Havelid -1
23:27 Enstrom +0

The Hainsey-Exelby combo and Enstrom-Havelid split playing versus Vinny Lecavalier.

23:12 Hainsey +0
17:14 Exelby +0

Forwards
22:18 Kovalchuk +4
18:33 White +4
17:40 Little +3

16:29 Kozlov +2
11:55 Williams +0
15:45 Christensen +2

14:20 Perrin -1
14:15 Reasoner +3
18:23 Armstrong +0

Armstrong and Christensen had the heavy defensive work of matching up against Lecavalier most of the night for the Thrashers.

8:12 Thorburn -5
12:08 Slater -5
6:08 Boulton -3

The 4th line was out shot at ES. They played the most ice time against the Recchi-Gratton-Vrbata line not the top line of Lecavalier.

Real Eastern Standings (Points - Games Played)
This controls for differences in games played by teams
+5 MON
+5 BUF
+4 NYR
+3 NJD
+2 WAS
+1 CAR
+2 PIT
+1 BOS
---------- Playoffs
+0 OTT
+0 ATL
-1 FLA
-1 NYI
-1 TOR
-1 TBL
-3 PHI

Right now every single team in the East is just two points out of a playoff berth, except for Philadelphia.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Thrashers after 5 Games

It is probably too early in the season to put a lot of weight into any stats. Anything can happen in a five day period. I recall the mid-1980s when the Toronto Maple Leafs would get off to a hot start in the old NHL Norris Division causing dreams of respectability for many fans on the shores of Lake Ontario only to see them come crashing back down to Earth and miss the playoffs again.

Likewise the Thrashers still have plenty of time to disappoint, but right the early returns are solid. The team is just one point away the top eight (playoff qualifying position) after playing 4 rather tough opponents. Personally I expect Washington, Minnesota, New Jersey and Buffalo to all compete for their respective division titles--earning 4 points against those 4 teams is respectable.

I think for me the most impressive thing is the effort level and the shot production. Last year the team would go through entire periods and entire games where they simply failed to compete and were badly out shot. The Thrashers are still getting out shot, but at least they are now getting their own chances against the opposition net minder.

Other than the poor third period against Florida, the effort level has been very good in my opinion. Is this harbinger for the entire season or just a "new coach" effect that will wear off after a while? Only time will tell.

Let's take a stroll through the various statistical rankings to see where the team is showing improvement. For each item below we can see where the Thrashers rank in the 30 team NHL.

NHL Standings
This Season: 16th (tie)
Last season: 27th
Early on the Thrashers are in the middle of the pack in the standing--certainly better than 0-6 start last year.

Shots For Per Game
This Season: 9th
Last Season: 30th
Major improvements in terms of generating scoring opportunities. Up from dead last to the top 1/3 of the NHL right now.

Goals Scored Per Game
This Season: 23rd (tie)
Last Season: 22nd (tie)
Unfortunately while shots are up sharply, goals scoring remain hard to come by so far. The offensive rank is about where it was last season.

Shots Against Per Game
This Season: 29th
Last Season: 30th
So far no big change in this department. The defensemen are much more mobile this year but with John Anderson's uptempo system the team is going to give up a fair number of shots. If the team gets great goaltending they can still improve on the defensive side of things.

Goals Allowed Per Game
This Season: 12th (tie)
Last Season: 29th (tie)
In fact when we look at GAA we see a MAJOR improvement over last year. Will this improvement hold? Probably not since Hedberg has yet to start and Kari has only allowed one bad goal so far this season (OT in Florida)

Goal Differential (GFA-GAA)
This Season: 18th (tie)
Last Season: 30th
This is a REALLY important stat--probably the single most important one in this post. Goal Differential is a great predictor of the where a team will rank in the standings. It is VERY early, but the Thrashers are showing huge improvement in Goal Differential due to great goaltending basically. Now I expect the GAA to deteriorate some but I also expect the offense to perform a bit better. Hopefully those two changes wash each other out and the Goal Differential number stays up there in the middle of the NHL.

Stopping Shots (SV%)
This Season: 9th
Last Season: 18th
Lehtonen has been very sharp. This explains the bulk of the improvement in the standings so far. The Lehtonen haters are all fairly quit right now.

Converting Shots (ST%)
This Season: 22nd
Last Season: 10th (tie)
The offense is creating more shots but converting fewer of them. Part of that is losing Marian Hossa and part of that is plain bad luck. It seems to me that Atlanta has hit a lot of iron in these first five games and they are due a few fortunate bounces at some point.

Earning Power Plays
This Season: 4th
Last Season: 28th
Atlanta is doing great at getting Power Plays compared to the rest of the league. This is probably due to better team speed and a more aggressive offensive system.

Power Play Percentage
This Season: 27th
Last Season: 23rd
The bad news is that the PP unit hasn't produced much at all. They're getting chances but just not finishing them...yet.

Taking Penalties
This Season: 19th
Last Season: 15th (tie)

Penalty Kill Percentage

This Season: 17th
Last Season: 27th
The team is showing major improvement so far on the PK unit. Still not top half in the NHL but they are no longer bottom of the NHL bad.

Attendance (by tickets distributed)
This Season: 30th
Last Season: 22nd
Attendance (by percent of capacity)
This Season: 30th
Last Season: 21st
Big tumble from last season when they moved tickets following the first ever playoff appearance and the upcoming NHL All-Star Game.

Summary: The team looks better, but probably is not playoff quality. The offense is creating more pressure but not converting enough chances so far. The defense is still allowing a lot of shots but the goaltending has been great so far.

Another NHL Team Misses a Chance to Embrace the Future

Wow, I go a couple of days without clicking over to read the Battle of Alberta blog and find myself behind the curve on the latest development in the NHL's relationship with bloggers. Blueland Chronicle has a post about this with links to key parts of the story. The very short version of this is that one of the authors of the blog Covered in Oil had a press pass from another media organization and was also using his time in the press box to do a live blog. The Oilers discovered this and summarily revoked his press access because they "don't credential bloggers". In fact, the Oilers do credential bloggers--but only those who blog for print or broadcast outlets. I'm not sure that I have anything new to say about the Edmonton situation that hasn't already been spoken more eloquently by others such as PuckDadddy.

Eric McErlain lays out the case for NHL teams taking a more progressive approach to independent digital media. Atlanta's situation is rather similar to the Capitals. In Washington DC, the NHL team must compete with more established (and more popular sports) for attention in the print, radio and television press. The Capitals realized they were unlikely to suddenly win that battle and they expanded the Capitals-related content for by encouraging and facilitating blogs about their team.

Here in Atlanta we have what may be the largest press box in the NHL. You can look up there on any given night and the upper press box looks like a ghost town. That sure looks like a wasted resource to me. Why not fence off one side of that and create a Blogger Row? Here is a team that gets precious little coverage and fans have little to read in the mainstream press. Often the mainstream press is very negative (which is fair when factual, but that has not always been the case in my opinion). Why not encourage more fan blogs and websites by setting up something to facilitate them?

One argument I hear against this is that people will only blog to avoid buying tickets. Well here's a news flash--I know multiple people who sit in press row on a regular basis who produce ZERO THRASHER CONTENT and simply use their press passes to attend games. Basically if you work for a media outlet at some point in your past you can get a press pass and do NOTHING and still watch NHL hockey for free. I understand why individuals would take advantage of the Thrashers organization, but I don't understand why the Thrashers organization allows itself to be taken advantage of.

On the other hand, bloggers who do create Thrasher content are turned away because we don't work for professional news organizations. Look, if you're worried about a Blogger Row becoming a cheap ticket alternative, then establish some ground rules to weed out the slackers--you have to publish regularly or loose your spot--"publish or perish"--seems like I've heard that one before.

The other objection that is frequently tossed out is that bloggers are unprofessional. Fine, establish ground rules and have Blogger Boot Camp during Training Camp in which any blogger must learn and consent to basic journalistic rules before receiving a credential. At the risk of offending my journalist friends--we are not talking about learning how to split the atom here. Eric McErlain has already created a Code of Conduct statement which the Thrashers could modify to their satisfaction.

The day is fast approaching when there will be no more print newspapers in Atlanta or other US cities. The future is digital. Newspaper circulating is crashing. Advertising is going digital. The readership of newspapers is overwhelming older people (who have money) and the future belongs to young people (who don't read newspapers).

The next generation of Thrasher fans will learn about their team via blogs, message boards and websites. They will not be reading a newspaper but free digital content on their Iphone or Blackberry devices. The NHL and the Thrashers need to go to where their fans are already headed--the digital media age which is dominated not by large media conglomerates but independent authors writing about things they are passionate about. Look at the areas of music and politics--both fields have embraced digital media such as bloggers precisely because opinion and passion are integral parts of their business. The NHL is also a business where opinion and passion matter a great deal.

The Thrashers should embrace the digital media age now. If they act now they could establish ground rules and shape the culture of local bloggers and instill good journalistic practices. The longer they wait the less influence they will have over developments.

To their credit the team has hosted two events for bloggers in the last two years. That's a good first step, but it is nothing more than a first step. If there is no second or third step then it is largely an empty gesture. If the team is nervous about this new digital media then take make gradual adjustments. What is the next step? Have one game a month with a designated Blogger Row access. If that works well then the following season expand it to more games or perhaps the entire season. I think the team might be pleasantly surprised at some of the positives that could result from such a policy step. Don't be another Edmonton, embrace your future.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sleepy Sabres Slip Away with Single Point

The Sabres played the night before and Buffalo came out slow. The Thrashers took advantage of the sleepy Sabres to pile up a big 1st period shot advantage 19-6. The Thrashers scored two goals on those shots but really should have had more--but Patrick Lalime was outstanding when Buffalo needed him to be so. This may have been the best game I've ever seen Lalime play.

Some key individual plays were Todd White's great pass to a breaking Kovalchuk who then cashed in the opportunity with a hard shot just under the cross bar. Jason Williams had 60% of the net to shot at with Lalime down but just couldn't elevate the puck high enough. Bryan Little who is showing off his offensive skills much more as a winger let loose a NHL level wrister that Lalime couldn't react to in time. White also had a brutal direct pass turnover to the Sabres in the slot area that Lehtonen saved. Lehtonen played like a top 15 starting goalie should play--no softies and several outstanding saves.

In some ways the game was about missed turning points for Atlanta. Yes, they did eventually get two points via the shootout, but if Jason Williams scores on that 1st period opportunity they go up 3-0 and probably win in regulation.

Likewise another big missed chance was at the start of the 3rd period. With the score 2-1 Atlanta the Thrashers begin the 3rd with a power play and fresh ice and fresh players. They really have to connect on that sort of opportunity. A goal in that situation likely gives Atlanta 2 points and Buffalo 0.

Instead the turning point of the 3rd occurred when Eric Boulton failed to clear the defensive zone and Jason Pominville stripws him on the puck went in on Lehtonen and shot the rebound come right to him on the left side for an easy put back goal. (Havelid was down on the ice after attempting to block the initial shot.)

In our "As the Blueline Turns"segment I thought that Enstrom had a nice rebound game after two less-than-great performances. Bogosian also had a couple of good looking shifts as well. It seemed to me that Bogosian didn't see the ice in OT or late in the 3rd as they went with a 5 man rotation. I understand that the coaches are probably trying to protect him and make sure he isn't out there to make a crucial costly error, but if Bogosian stays the whole season the team will need to use him late just to rest the other pairings here and there. I noticed a rare Havelid pinch to the net move at one point in the game.

The power play continues to look great in terms of puck control, puck movement and generating shots--the only problem is there are no PP goals recently. Part of this is that the Thrashers now take more point shots and Lalime simply was terrific in not giving up a lot of rebounds. I'm as frustrated as anyone about now getting any PP goals, but this PP unit certainly looks more dangerous than last season's pass-it-around-the-perimeter-and-hope-Kovy-scores system.

I seldom blog about opposition players, but watching the game on tape later I was very impressed with Thomas Vanek--he and Lalime carried a tired squad to a point they probably would not have earned otherwise.

The Thrashers are far from perfect, but they are entertaining and they are doing what they must to stay in the Eastern Playoff race while they become familiar with each other and Anderson's systems. I'm more encouraged than discouraged after 5 games.

Corsi Box Score (ES Thrashers Shots minus Opposition Shots Attempted)

Team

Lehtonen +18 Not so good for the Thrashers at Even Strength versus the Devils.

Defense
26:07 Schneider +8
12:27 Bogosian +13 (A new high in net team shot differential for Bogo)

24:04 Havelid +1
25:49 Enstrom +6

25:31 Hainsey +3
15:17 Exelby +6

Forwards
22:18 Kovalchuk +2
17:36 White +4
16:57 Little +4

15:46 Kozlov +8
14:11 Williams +9
16:00 Christensen +6

14:27 Perrin +13
15:55 Reasoner +6
18:28 Armstrong +6

6:39 Thorburn -2
13:41 Slater -1
7:34 Boulton -2

Real Eastern Standings (Points - Games Played)
This controls for differences in games played by teams
+5 NYR
+4 MON
+4 BUF
+3 NJD
+2 WAS
+1 CAR
+1 PIT
+1 BOS
---------- Playoffs
+0 OTT
+0 ATL
+0 FLA
-1 NYI
-1 TOR
-2 TBL
-3 PHI

Friday, October 17, 2008

You could take Kyle Wellwood
























OK it's probably not right to kick a guy when he's down, but this picture of Kyle Wellwood is worth 1,000 words about why the Canucks complained about his conditioning. This was taken right after an injury took him out of the Toronto lineup last season. There are guys in my Rec League team in better condition that this guy--and they pay for the privilege of skating!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Devils Shut Out Thrashers

I'll keep this one fairly short and to the point. The Devils are favored to make the playoffs, perhaps win their division or even finish 1st in the Eastern Conference (so says James Mirtle). The Thrashers are favored to do none of those things.

For 60 minutes the Thrashers competed and matched the Devils on the ice. They lost because they hit two crossbars and Brodeur made a highway robbery save. They were also out shot by a sizable margin but Lehtonen kept them in the game. They had a chance to tie a quality team and came up just a little bit short.

I know there is some grumbling among fans about the losses to the Wild and Devils but frankly I'm more encouraged than discouraged. The NHL season is LONG and the Thrashers are playing a fairly entertaining brand of hockey and they are hanging in there against better teams. If they keep playing like this consistently they will get their share of points. That said I have never considered this Thrashers squad to be a likely playoff team. This season is about constructing the foundation for a contender and breaking in young players and figuring out who to keep for a contending club (not looking so good for Mr. Williams or Mr. Christensen through the first few games).

The bad news is that the October schedule is still rather rough. The Sabres are a VERY talented team and they come to town on Saturday. On paper they are better than the Thrashers and they should win the game. Can Atlanta overcome the odds and get some points? That's why they play the games I suppose.

Corsi Box Score (ES Thrashers Shots minus Opposition Shots Attempted)

Team

Lehtonen -16 Not so good for the Thrashers at Even Strength versus the Devils.

Defense
26:17 Schneider -2
16:17 Bogosian +1 (A new high in ice time for Bogo)

15:15 Havelid -11
18:43 Enstrom -14

Holy Cow! The Thrashers were out shot at ES by a big margin it happened almost entirely while the Swedish D pair were out there on the ice. When I first saw this I thought maybe Enstrom and Havelid had been matched up against the Elias line and that explained their struggles but the Hainsey-Exleby pairing had more TOI versus that line.

22:24 Hainsey +1
17:22 Exelby +0

Forwards
The top line was even, while the other three lines were outshot. Was this a D problem or a F problem? Given the brutal numbers of the Enstrom-Havelid pairing I'm inclined to think it was a defense problem.

23:10 Kovalchuk 0
17:48 White +1
20:37 Little +1

15:50 Kozlov -5
14:11 Williams -8
15:41 Christensen -5

15:31 Perrin -6
17:17 Reasoner -5
14:52 Armstrong -4

7:27 Thorburn -6
8:57 Slater -7
6:55 Boulton -5


Real Eastern Standings (Points - Games Played)
This controls for differences in games played by teams
+4 NYR
+3 MON
+3 BUF
+2 NJD
+2 WAS
+1 CAR
+0 PIT
+0 NYI
---------- Playoffs
+0 BOS
+0 OTT
+0 TOR
-1 ATL
-1 FLA
-2 TBL
-2 PHI

Minnesota Game Analysis

Work kept me rather busy the last 24 hours, but here are my delayed thoughts on the loss to Minnesota. Last season when the Minnesota Wild came to Philips Arena the Thrashers were outshot by a wide margin (39-26) but the team managed to get a tie in regulation and win the extra point in the SO. Even though the Thrashers received zero standings points, the team probably had a stronger performance this season but lost because a handful of defensive gaffes in the 3rd period.

On Tuesday night the Thrashers had a pretty good game in terms of shots and scoring chances. I've read some fairly negative comments on this game, and I guess I just have to disagree. When you lose everyone emphasizes the mistakes and when you win they tend to ignore them. Early in this game the Thrashers were had an opportunity to grab a lead--they just didn't do so.

Year after year the Thrashers have struggled terribly against teams that trap, but they did a fairly good job of putting pressure on Minnesota. Atlanta continually gained the offensive zone and put shots on net, only to see Backstrom make saves and the Wild players clear rebounds and prevent 2nd chance shots. If Atlanta does that every night this season they will win a fair number of games.

Why did the Thrashers end up losing a game that was fairly evenly played?

1) They failed to convert some great chances in the 1st period. Kovalchuk had the puck on a 2 on 1 break and inexplicably attempted a pass that failed to reach the intended target. Colby Armstrong cleanly beat Backstrom but hit the crossbar.

2) The power play struggled to do much other than get shots from the point. Coach Anderson mentioned that the PP is a big problem right now in his post-game news conference and Mike Knobler reports on his blog that the team focused on that PP unit in practice today.

3) In the 3rd period there two bad pinches at the offensive blue line that left Kari Lehtonen and Mathieu Schneider in a bad position defending odd man breaks--Minnesota converted on both opportunities. Oystrick attempted to leap in the air and catch the puck and when he missed the Wild had a 2-on-0 break. Mathieu Schneider skated like crazy to get back into the play. (When you're the last defenseman back you can't take that kind of a chance.) Enstrom tried to hold a puck in and it hit his body and squirted out. I haven't watched the game tape but seeing it live it looked to me that one of the forwards was curling to come back but then failed to catch up to the Wild forwards. Schneider was again left defending a 2 on 1 play.

Honestly the Wild are a better team than Atlanta right now. The Thrashers played hard and they created some scoring chances they just failed to convert on offense. Losing is never good but the effort and intensity was pretty solid and the PK looked better. If you're going to lose, better to lose this way, unlike last season where they were badly outshot and struggled to get out of their own defensive zone many nights.

Your Corsi Boxscore (ES Shots Attempted For-ES Shots Attempted Against)
TOI/Player/Corsi Plus-Minus Score

Team
Lehtonen +6
The Thrashers actually won the Even Strength Shots Attempted battle.

Defense

26:10 Schneider +1
22:15 Havelid +5
21:57 Enstrom -4
21:28 Hainsey +2
16:04 Exelby +6
12:29 Oystrick +3

Enstrom struggled in the FLA game and he was the only defenseman out shot at ES in the MIN contest.

Forwards

19:34 Kovalchuk -4
18:53 White -6
19:35 Little -4

The Thrashers must get better offensive pressure out of their top line. Moving Little to Kovalchuk's line did not have a positive impact initially. Last season Kovlachuk and White were pretty much destroyed at ES by the opposition in terms of Shots For versus Shots Against. So far that trend has not reversed itself this season.

18:02 Kozlov 0
17:35 Williams +1
18:37 Christensen +1

12:44 Perrin +4
12:29 Reasoner +4
10:14 Armstrong +2

7:47 Thorburn +6
10:01 Slater +7
7:14 Boulton +6

An outstanding night by the 4th line who outplayed the opposition in limited ES ice time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Political Junkies: Canada Votes!

I just got home from the Thrasher game and I will post about the loss to Minnesota but right now I'm watching C-SPAN which is carrying the CBC election night results from Canada's Parliamentary election today. Nothing beats hearing a serious election telecast littered with a few "aboots"--after watching South Park for years it makes me chuckle every time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

R.I.P. Cherepanov

































Very sad news today as Alexei Cherepanov passed away at age 19 from an apparent heart attack during the 3rd period of a KHL game.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Lehtonen Earns Thrashers a Point

The Thrashers lost of Florida in OT but picked up a valuable standing point nonetheless. Atlanta had some major PP opportunities right off from the start but could not score. The PK was better this game but the PP hurt them.

In game one of the season the offense really carried the team to victory as Lehtonen appeared to struggle in a few spots. In game 2 of the season Lehtonen made a series of crucial saves in the first half of the 3rd as the Atlanta was out shot 10-1. The OT goal was partly Kari's fault as he didn't handle it cleanly which led to an put back rebound goal.

Kovalchuk had another great pass to set up Kozlov's goal. Williams and Hainsey showed some veteran mojo by connecting on a clean face off win and point shot for a great looking tip in front. I thought the Thrashers got some fairly favorable calls and got away with interference on a couple of occasions.

What went wrong in this game? The Swedish D pairing had a poor game. I'm a big fan of Tobias Enstrom and this was arguably one of his worst games as a Thrasher. The stats confirm this as the Enstrom-Havelid pairing was badly out shot at even strength: -14 for Enstrom and -11 for Havelid. The coaching staff leaned heavily on Hainsey and Schneider this game and Bogosian again played few minutes. If Bogosian doesn't show some improvement I would not be surprised if he was returned to juniors before he plays 10 NHL games.

Atlanta was out shot 22-5 in the 3rd + OT. There's no good excuse as both teams were on played the night before and traveled. Back-to-back games were a disaster for the Thrashers all of last season and they must be stronger in that area this season.

Another bad habit from last year--the stagnant PP--returned this game. Some stretches where they just passed it back and forth--eventually Hainsey and Schneider fired it at the net but the forwards were just standing around down low--they need to move to create lanes and mis-matches.

DEFENSE
Time on Ice/Player/ES Shot Differential when on the ice
27:41 Hainsey +1
25:20 Schneider -5
20:26 Enstrom -14
20:30 Havelid -11
19:49 Exelby +7
13:28 Bogosian -3

I've been pretty hard on Exelby, but on this night the team had success when he was out there in terms of shots. There was a lot of special teams ice time so Bogosian played fewer minutes.

OFFENSE
Time on Ice/Player/ES Shot Differential when on the ice
22:29 Kovalchuk -3
18:38 White -4
18:15 Williams +2

The top line was not dominant at even strength. That has to get better over the long term. Kovalchuk has put up huge numbers in the past because he received lots of PP ice time. That is no longer the case which means he will have to be more productive at ES.

20:30 Kozlov -9
16:45 Christensen -9
14:25 Little -9

2nd line was badly out shot. I assume they were out there for many shifts with the struggling Swedish D duo.

15:37 Perrin +3
17:30 Reasoner +4
14:53 Armstrong +1

Another good game for the 3rd line.

11:10 Slater +1
4:46 Boulton -5
6:36 Thorburn -1

The 4th line was badly out shot in the home opener. In game 2 they hardly saw any ice time with all the special teams play. Slater got more minutes because he was on the PK unit.

Thrashers Attack the Net Vs Caps

J.P. has a good post about last night's game versus Washington. If you click over you can see the shot chart of Atlanta's shots on goal last night. Notice how all 7 goals are below and between the two offensives faceoff dots. That's where the high percentage chances come from.

The Thrashers did a very good job of attacking the opposition net last night. Now if you want to see the location of the 40+ shots the Thrashers allowed you can click here to see the full thing on ESPN.com. In the defensive zone Atlanta allowed far too many close in shots. the ones that are high in the zone are less dangerous--on average. Two of the four goals were point blank locations the other two were from out high.

The other thing I completely forgot to mention is the play that was probably the most crucial moment of the entire contest (quite an oversight on my part). With the game tied 4-4 Lehtonen makes a save but the puck ends up in the blue paint in the goalie crease and Enstrom falls on the loose puck and probably saves a goal against. This creates a penalty shot opportunity and Lehtonen blanks Alex Ovechkin to preserve the tie. I find it interesting that many Caps fans think that Semin should have been given the PS not Ovechkin. Apparently their Ovy is much like our own Kovy--each of them are more dangerous in the flow of play than in the penalty shot type of situations.

EDIT: So how was the ice time spread among the defensemen?

Basically the top four defense all got the same total ice time. Bogosian

Total TOI/name/ES TOI
23:53 Hainsey 14:27
22:37 Havelid 15:27
22:18 Schneider 13:42
21:46 Enstrom 12:48
17:55 Exelby 13:10
12:58 Bogosian 12:08

Thrashers Topple Capitals

What a fun start to the season! The NHL season is a long and winding road, but this night went right for the Thrashers. I had a ton of thoughts watching this game so I"ll just toss them out quick hit style.

Momentum is such a tricky thing, the Thrashers appeared to be in trouble after Bogosian took a penalty in his first NHL shift and the Caps looked like they had a goal only to have it wiped out by a high stick call. Then Hainsey responds by getting the first official goal and the Thrashers are off and running. The "new guys" all seemed to contribute, other than perhaps Jason Williams whom I hardly noticed.

Our power play looks MUCH better with the addition of Hainsey and Schnedier. Neither of these guys are afraid to fire the puck from the blueline. Opposing teams have to respect the blueline shot which will eventually open up more ice for Kovalchuk down low. I LOVED the fact that when the Thrashers won the first PP face off (from Ovechkin no less) the puck came to Schneider who just unleashed a one timer (which was blocked). Last year's PP unit would have made five passes and then turned the puck over. This year the PP just fires away--what an improvement.

Kozlov looked much better. He created the 2nd Little goal by skating across the blueline--and a couple of flashy puck handling moves attracted all three defenders to him and he then dished off a perfect pass to a wide open Little who fired and scored.

Another guy who was just sensational in my opinion was Eric Perrin. It seemed to me that he made something happen EVERY shift he was out there. Little received the 1st star for his 3 point night but it was a real ommission ignore Perrin's terrific play out there.

Bogosian got tagged for two penalties and a Brashear hunted the rookie down in the final two minutes of the game. I'm sure he was the happiest person in the building when the Capitals apparent goal was waived off.

Bogosian wasn't the only D to have a rough night. Enstrom fell asleep on Green's PP goal on the back door. Exelby lost his stick and the Capitals converted on the PP again.

There are many areas for improvement. The Thrashers are not going to have too many nights when the opposition goalie's Save Percentage is below .800 so the team will need to limit the chances against. Probably the most disturbing of the game was allowing 40+ shots on goal. That can't continue night after night if this team hopes to win.

As someone who plays defense in my local rec hockey leagues I probably watch the D more than most fans do. I can't believe how much more mobile our D corps is now and how much better their passing is. Schneider and Hainsey both jumped into the offensive zone play and made outstanding tape to tape outlet passes that allowed the forwards to race up the ice without making awkward adjustments to catch the puck.

Back when I suggested the Thrashers add Schneider to the roster I made the claim that he would be the best defenseman to wear a Thrashers uniform in team history. He had a couple of subtle plays that confirmed that (in my opinion). He made a heady move on a 1st period PP where it looked like the Capitals were about to recover and clear the puck. Instead he jumps in straight ahead beats the Capital to the puck and slides it fluidly back to Hainsey who then makes a solid play to keep the PP alive. At another point he slides down the left wall on the PP and calls for the puck from a Thrashers forward who is coming under pressure. Schneider receives the puck cleanly and immediately makes a quality pass to keep the flow going. Other than Enstrom last season, the Thrashers have been missing this sort of PP QB for their entire franchise history.

Some of the things that Coach Anderson discussed this summer with the bloggers showed up in the first contest. Anderson talked about the forwards putting pressure on down low and sending the defenseman to the net--which is exactly how Hainsey scored the first goal of the game.

Another thing Coach Anderson talked about was changing the attitude. I don't want to get overly excited about a single game, but I was pleased to see the Thrashers kept playing hard after Washington tied the game 4-4. We have seen many Thrashers teams that seemed to become stunned and slip into a defensive shell after giving up two goals on a single penalty call.

The players made multiple mistakes out there, but the energy level was great. The cameras caught Colby Armstrong on the bench after he scored his first of the season and he did some kind of shotgun thing with arms and was clearly enthused about his goal and the game.

The crowd was spirited and there were MANY more people there than I expected given the availability of tickets. Technically a sell out but there some rather patchy sections in the upper deck. Given how many tickets were available the morning of the game I'm thinking there were a significant number of giveaways for this one.

The Marketing/Ticket Sales Departments have to be doing hand stands. Finally the team puts on an entertaining performance in front of a large crowd. On opening night the hockey product was good--it was the sort of spirited contest that will make people want to come back again. Of course, the team has to keep playing like that into the future.

Two of the best plays of the entire game were passes. Kozlov's phenomenal pass for Little's goal and Kovalchuk's pass across the low slot for the final goal of the contest by White. As Gretzky learned sometimes an assist is prettier than a goal.

Kari Lehtonen had a stretch where he started throwing himself at the puck instead of just letting it hit him and I thought "oh no, he's about to fall apart" but he regained his composure and made some quality saves to get the win.

It was far from a perfect game, but it was a win (and there were few of those last season). The energy level was good, the PP was encouraging and the hockey product was fun to watch. The $1,000,000 question is can they keep doing this?

Corsi Box Score: Shots Attempted, Thrashers minus Opposition Shots
(
while each player was on the ice at even strength excluding EN situations)

Team/Goal
-9 Lehtonen

Defense: all three D pairings were outshot to some degree, Schneider had the worst numbers at even strength. Not sure this one tells us that much.

-2 Havelid
-2 Enstrom

-7 Schneider
-3 Bogosian

-3 Hainsey
-3 Exelby

Forwards: The top three lines were pretty even in net shots attempted, but the 4th line was really in trouble in terms of getting out shot. Almost the entire Capitals ES shot advantage was piled up when the Greek God line was out there.

+2 Kovalchuk
+4 White
+2 Williams

+1 Kozlov
-1 Christensen
-1 Little

+1 Armstrong
-1 Reasoner
-1 Perrin

-8 Slater
-12 Thorburn
-10 Boulton

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Home Opener Unlikely to Sell Out

We are now 24 hours away from the NHL puck drop in Atlanta. So a quick check at Ticklemaster for the home opener. You can still buy a block of 10 seats in a row in Section 110 ROW C--yes folks that's right, you can purchase half of the row in the 3rd row behind Kari Lehtonen for the first game of the year.

You can buy a block of 20 seats in the upper deck.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Vegas Predicts the 2008-09 Season

I posted the Las Vegas odds last year. In general Vegas did pretty well, they beat my attempt to predict all 30 teams. However, they missed badly on the Thrashers pegging them as a low 90 point team when they ended up finished as a low 70 point team--a 20 point miss. In general I'd say their over/under lines for the entire Southeast Division are a bit weak. This year I think Vegas is low on the Thrashers.


EASTERN CONFERENCE
99.5 MON
98.5 PIT
97.5 NJD

According to Vegas the clear favorites in the East are the Canadians, Penguins and Devils. Personally I think the Penguins are going to struggle with massive turnover up front and Gonchar and Whitney out for an extended period. As always the Devils season hinges on Brodeur starting 70 games--any injuries and they come in much lower.

94.5 OTT
94.5 PHI
93.5 WSH
93.5 NYR
91.5 BUF
91.5 BOS
91.5 TBL
89.5 CAR

Next we have a cluster of 8 teams sparring for 5 playoff berths. Within that group I'm bullish on Buffalo and bearish on Carolina (key injuries to Williams and Brind'amour and Cam Ward doesn't live up to his reputation). Washington and Tampa are two Eastern Teams projected for big jumps. The Rangers have some very talented young guys but I could see them struggle to gel and they have to replace all the points that left with Jagr, Straka and Shanahan.

82.5 FLA
79.5 ATL
76.5 TOR
74.5 NYI

The Thrashers in the bottom cluster, however the addition of Schneider pushes them above that number in my opinion. I think the Islanders are just a terrible team and agree that they will finish dead last in the NHL.

WESTERN CONFERENCE
109.5 DET
102.5 SJS
100.5 ANA
99.5 DAL

The favorites out west include 3 Pacific Division teams, mathematically it is very tough for three teams in the same division to all hit 100 points.

94.5 CGY
94.5 CHI
93.5 EDM
92.5 MIN
91.5 COL

In the middle we find 5 times battling it out for 4 playoff slots. I'm bearish on Calgary and Colorado and I would but Minnesota higher than that. Vegas sees Chicago and Edmonton as the two most improved teams in the Western Conference.

85.5 VAN
83.5 NSH
83.5 CBJ
82.5 PHX
79.5 STL
77.5 LAK

There are a lot of very exciting young players in this bottom group. One of these teams could make a Capitals style leap up the standings this season. The Coyotes are very intriguing but extremely young. Nashville was dealt a great blow when Radulov went to the KHL. The Blues took a big hit with Erik Johnson injury but rookie Berglund could make a splash for them. Columbus had a major roster make over--if they can gel quickly they might stay in the playoff race.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Thrashers Roster: Is it complete?

The Thrashers cut down their roster to the NHL mandated 23 players today. Mike Hoffman will go on injured list so they will 22 active players. (Under the CBA a team cannot send a player who is injured at the NHL level down until that players is healthy so it is unclear where Hoffman will play until he comes off the injured list.)

At defense Oystrick got the last spot over Valabik. Personally, I'm not wild about this. I think Oystrick tends to stand by the net and let his defensive partner do most of the work in his own end. I also think Valabik brings more to the table. But by all accounts Oystrick corrected a conditioning problem that has held him back in past camps--if that is why he made the team then he deserves a tip of the hat for doing what was necessary this summer.

I will point out some other factors that occur to me. I've criticized the Thrashers management in the past for not giving young defensemen like Brett Clark and Kurtis Foster more of a serious look at the NHL level. Both of those guys went on to become solid NHL contributors on other teams. Oystrick is now old enough (nearly 26) that he has lost his prospect status. If they send him through waivers another team could claim him. The Thrashers might just be doing some due diligence here and finding out once and for all if Oystrick can be a useful NHL defenseman, before potentially losing him on waivers. If that's the motivation, I endorse it.

The other thought is that John Anderson has watched Nathan Oystrick play 162 AHL games and 39 AHL playoff contests. One would think after that many games Anderson has a pretty good idea of the positives and negative of Oystrick as a player. Perhaps this a guy Anderson really believes in?

Another possibility is the Thrashers have a trade brewing that will send a NHL roster defensemen and therefore they don't want to risk losing Oystrick as a depth player. As far as I know the Pavelec situation is still unresolved. If the Thrashers are offering around a package of Pavelec and another roster defensemen, then Oystrick might have been retained as an insurance policy. If another defensemen is traded then Valabik can come back up and Oystrick might be the true 7th D. If there is no trade brewing, there is always the potential that Atlanta could snag another player who is being sent through waivers in the next 24-48 hours as all NHL teams cut down as well.

At forward Sterling made the team over Colin Stuart and Joey Crabb. Here I'm not the least bit surprised. I think it is imperative for the Thrashers to learn whether Sterling can be a consistent top six scorer in the NHL. To find out, they need to put him in the lineup for 30 games and put him on one of the power play units and see what happens. He will probably have a couple of rough nights--most rookies do--but they need to stick by him and see what he has to offer at this level. The guy has nothing left to prove at the AHL level so they either need to utilize him or trade him for something that can help this team advance. Leaving him in the minors helps neither Sterling nor the Atlanta Thrashers.

The other argument for Sterling making the team is that scoring will probably be an issue this season. Even with Coach Anderson's uptempo systems they could struggle to replace the goals produced by Hossa, Holik, Dupuis and Recchi (that's 63 Thrashers goals scored) those four players were responsible for one quarter of the team's offense. Sterling, along with Christensen, Armstrong, Reasoner and Williams will be tasked with filling and surpassing that void.

I suspect that we will see Colin Stuart or Joey Crabb back in the NHL when injuries stike this season.


 
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