Archive for March, 2009

Lehtonen update

Injured goalie Kari Lehtonen will skate Tuesday with goalie coach Steve Weeks, Thrashers coach John Anderson said Monday. Lehtonen will be evaluated again after that. He has been out since leaving Thursday night’s game against the Rangers after the first period. Lehtonen hit his head after the Rangers Sean Avery crashed the net with five minutes left in the period.

Earlier, I wrote:

At this stage of the season, when you’ve got two practices to prepare for an opponent the best thing might be another day of rest. That seems to be the theory for today, with practice being optional. Only eight of the forwards are on the ice: Bryan Little and Todd White; Colby Armstrong and Rich Peverley; Colin Stuart; Eric Boulton, Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn.

The defensemen: Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom, Garnet Exelby, Nathan Oystrick, Anssi Salmela and Boris Valabik. Colin Stuart threw me a curve by being grouped with and dressed in the uniform sweater of the defensemen; it’s just balancing the …

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Three stars of March

Here is my off-the-cuff attempt at choosing the Thrashers’ three stars for the 9-4 month of March, their best month since the first month of their one playoff season.

Third star — Kari Lehtonen. Yes, he allowed six goals in each of his last two full games, but don’t forget what he did before that: Shutouts of Montreal and Colorado and a career-best 49 saves against Washington. His stats for the month are 5-3, 2.74 goals against average, .918 save percentage.

Second star — Slava Kozlov. 6 goals, 10 assists, points in 10 of his last 11 games. He is a key to the power play’s resurgence.

First star — Ilya Kovalchuk. 6 goals, 10 assists, despite a back injury that caused him to miss three of the 13 games. He scored points in every game he played except for the 46-second appearance at Edmonton. Without that game, he’d have a 12-game point-scoring streak. He has been a creative force, and he has scored goals at big times. He was the prime mover behind the three-goal comeback Thursday …

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Hedberg steps up to top job

The Thrashers promoted Dan Turple from Chicago on Friday in response to Thursday’s injury to Kari Lehtonen. That means they’re sticking with Johan Hedberg as their top goalie until Lehtonen returns from the upper body injury he suffered Thursday night against the Rangers.

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Weeks in net, for now

Thrashers goalie coach Steve Weeks is filling in at practice for Kari Lehtonen this morning. There’s no word about Lehtonen’s status after Thursday night’s injury.

Boris Valabik (dislocated shoulder) is back in practice, though I’m sure he won’t be ready to play Saturday night.

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Different Rangers await tonight

The Thrashers beat the Rangers in a shootout Feb. 3 in New York, but Atlanta faces a much different team tonight at Philips Arena.

The Rangers added Sean Avery, Derek Morris and Nik Antropov since then. “All three of them have made a difference for us right away,” said John Tortorella, who is also a new addition as coach. Tortorella said he will always be on Antropov to play a full 60 minutes, but, “That’s a big body with talent.” Avery, a hockey soap opera of a story, has eight points in 10 games with the Rangers since being signed on re-entry waivers. “Sean has been a very, very effective player for us,” Tortorella said. “It’s hopefully going to calm down around him.”

Another change for tonight. The Thrashers face New York’s backup goalie, Steve Valiquette. Valiquette has good stats (2.77 goals against average, .910 save percentage) but he’s not quite Henrik Lundqvist, and he hasn’t won a game since January. He allowed just two goals on 35 shots in his most recent start, a …

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The end is near

Nobody has considered the Thrashers a playoff contender for months, but as of today there’s still a way Atlanta could qualify for a postseason berth. That could change on Tuesday. A regulation loss at Montreal would eliminate the Thrashers. The Thrashers have 66 points; the eighth-place Canadiens 81.

Rich Peverley didn’t practice today; Jim Slater took his place as the center on the second line. Peverley is making the trip to Montreal, though, and it’s clear he’s going to play (if he weren’t, Thrashers coach John Anderson would have adjusted the lines for practice instead of using Slater as a temporary plug-in).

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Back to back ends here

Greetings from Tampa, where the Thrashers finish the final two-games-in-two-days test of the season. You might think they’d be taking it easy this late in the year, with a game last night against Detroit. Nope. I don’t know if this morning’s skate is officially optional for everyone on the team, but the ice is full of players.

The only guys not skating this morning are the injured Jim Slater and Boris Valabik (neither of whom made the trip), plus Slava Kozlov (who gets a pass at age 36 and 192 consecutive games played) and Ron Hainsey (might be in the category of recovering from an injury, though he played against Detroit).

Through their first 14 back-to-backs this season, the Thrashers are 5-8-1 on the second night. That’s better than it was last season.

Six home games remain and, including tonight’s, four road games. If they go 5-3-2 they will equal last season’s record.

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Big test in front of big crowd

The Thrashers play the Red Wings tonight at Philips Arena. The atmosphere should be great. The game might be, too.

Ansar Khan of Booth Newspapers shared these comments from the Red Wings.

Coach Mike Babcock: “Their goaltending has been fantastic. That’s going to be a big issue for us. The other things that happens to us, when you’re a team in our situation playing a team in their situation, you don’t get prepared mentally, but when you need to, and then the goalie can shut the door on you. We talked about that, tried to prepare for it. We played well of late. We want to continue to get better.

“We’re going to get a real good test from a big man in net that is the kind of test you face at playoff time. When the other goalie is really good, you’ve got to outwork him.’’
Marian Hossa, on the reception he expects and whether it will be positive or negative: “Tell you truth, not sure. Obviously, it’s going to be a little bit of both.”

When I spoke with Hossa this morning, it was …

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They’re back

Only Boris Valabik and Jim Slater are missing from practice today in Duluth. The lines:

Kovalchuk-White-Little

Kozlov-Peverley-Armstrong

Stuart-Reasoner-Machacek

Boulton-Perrin-Thorburn (Sterling)

Enstrom-Bogosian

Salmela-Hainsey

Oystrick-Exelby

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Good news on injuries

Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey are listed as probable for Friday night’s game against the Red Wings. Boris Valabik is questionable; Jim Slater is out.

What did you think about Matt Cooke’s knee-on-knee against Bogosian? I thought it was a dangerous and intentional act, the kind of thing that could threaten a guy’s career. Blows to the head get a lot of attention, and they should, but knee injuries also can be devastating to a player’s ability to continue to earn a living.

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