Final road game up next

Greetings from Washington, where the Cherry Blossom Festival is in full swing, which means I couldn’t get into a hotel room to get a nap after my 7 a.m. flight from Ft. Lauderdale. I type this from the eighth floor of a mall in the Virginia suburbs, where the Capitals have a practice rink that is gorgeous.

The drama here is Alex Ovechkin’s pursuit of Evgeni Malkin for the scoring title. Ovechkin has 104 points to Malkin’s 108, and Malkin has a game in hand. There’s also a team race: The Capiitals are in second place in the conference, two points ahead of New Jersey, and New Jersey has the more-victories tie-breaker.

“Alex wants to be No. 1 in everything, so it wouldn’t surprise me [if he is focused on the scoring title],” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said about 15 minutes ago. “As long as it doesn’t affect the way he plays. We don’t want guys staying out longer shifts. If it comes to that, we’ll stop him. But as far as the extra drive, I don’t think you’ve seen his overdrive yet. That will come in 10 days or two weeks, whenever the playoffs start, because his goal, like ours, is to win the Stanley Cup.”

The Thrashers play the Capitals Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. and then Tuesday night at Philips Arena. I would bet Ilya Kovalchuk would like to outshine his buddy Ovechkin in those two games. The Thrashers obviously don’t have a playoff-related goal left, but that hasn’t seemed to stop them the past several weeks. My story to be posted later today will give you more details on that. Here’s a teaser: The Thrashers are, statistically, in the midst of a franchise-record run of success on the ice.

As I wrote in the headline for this blog post, Sunday is the Thrashers’ final road game. Here is an interesting stat: They’re 17-19-4 on the road, which ties them for the 15th best road record in the NHL. If they also had the 15th-best home record (Vancouver does, at 22-11-5), they would have 13 more points than they do now and they’d be in the thick of the playoff hunt, tied with Florida for ninth in the Eastern Conference. One of the Thrashers’ many problems this season is the way they played in front of those empty seats at Philips Arena, where they are 17-19-2. Only Tampa Bay has been worse at home.

16 comments Add your comment

mknobler

April 4th, 2009
1:28 pm

I just learned this facility ought to look gorgeous. It cost $42.5 million of Arlington County taxpayers’ money, or so I am told by Post beat reporter Tarik El-Bashir.

Sergei Fedorov got hurt blocking a shot but is probable for Sunday’s game.

Tom

April 4th, 2009
1:57 pm

42.5 million for a hockey rink. Wow. The 2 rinks they were trying to build down here in Peachtree City were less than 5 million

LAC

April 4th, 2009
2:05 pm

Kind of a cheap shot at the Atlanta fans Mike… If the team played well and Mgt made good moves it would not be that way.

It still needs to be a better commitment from these childish owners before I will return, a new GM would be a nice start !

mknobler

April 4th, 2009
2:13 pm

Todd White was the only player absent from today’s practice, which lasted just a half an hour. White wasn’t feeling well, Thrashers coach John Anderson said.

mknobler

April 4th, 2009
2:17 pm

LAC It wasn’t meant as a shot at the fans. I’m not saying they should buy tickets; I’m saying they haven’t, or if they have they haven’t used them.

Brendan

April 4th, 2009
5:46 pm

I didn’t take that as a shot against Atlanta fans, but rather, against the way the Thrashers have played at home. And shoot, folks. Even John Anderson has held practices telling his team that they haven’t played up to snuff at home, for the hometown fans. Stating, “You must give them a reason to be here.” And that’s coming directly from the Head Coach.

They know they have to play better at home. I think they’ve played remarkably well on the road, for this roster. Now, does any of this mean the team will falter next year or perform at the same level, or even better, winning at .600 clip? No, it doesn’t mean ANY of those things.

We don’t even know what the roster will look like. Stop. We don’t. RFA’s don’t always get re-signed. Sometimes, they get traded, or even poached. Not that I think any RFA offersheets are coming. We’ll just have to be patient and see what happens during the offseason. A lot can change. Contracts will start to be signed in April, some in May, then the June Draft. Qualifying offers will be made. July 1st brings forth free agency.

Next year, we do know, WITH CERTAINTY, that Kozlov with have another 25-30 goal season? Is it “certain,” that Todd White will have another CAREER season? Will Reasoner be back? He is a pending UFA, after all. Will Perrin be back? Some of you are screaming, “God, I hope not!!” And yet, Perrin, two seasons ago, was “Top 4″ scorer on this team, who played a lot more ice time than he did this year, and was one of the best “value for the money” type of players in the league that year.

Will Kari Lehtonen be back? See, we can’t just assume we start October 2009 with the same momentum and roster that have now. Not to start anything, but what if Kovy doesn’t re-sign in July and still hasn’t been locked up by “Opening Night?” Doesn’t THAT change some perceptions and attitudes, moving forward? Both directionally and conceptually?

Allright, then. Generally speaking, if the Thrashers play better at home, or win the way they have have been, then I do expect Blueland attendance to be robust. But want to hear something nutty, Mike?

Don’t you think it’s reasonable for the OWNERSHIP to set that “winning” tone? And that starts by CLEANING THEIR HOUSE this Summer. And by that, I mean offering contracts to existing Thrasher players. You all know the list by now. Of course, Kovy and Kari are high up on that list. But Bryan Little can be PROACTIVELY re-signed. So can Pavelec. So can Brett Sterling, Slava Kozlov and Colin Stuart. Even Moose. But forget about being so utterly proactive , there’s a laundry list of pending UFA’s and RFA’s. RFA’s are Colby Armstrong, Boris Valabik, Kari, Nathan Oystrick, Joey Crabb, Jim Slater. UFA’s are Perrin and Reasoner. Doesn’t it fall on the OWNERSHIP to establish that Atlanta isn’t the “farm team” for the rest of the NHL? In other words, that OWNERSHIP open the wallet to empower Waddell to lock up our own players, and show them that this organization is a place where they can start to plan a future. Because right now, Atlanta’s is just a “layover,” like a flight at Hartsfield, for an NHL Player. I’d like to give our young draft picks, prospects, and modestly tenured Thrasher players reason to believe that Atlanta is a market worth staying in and CAPABLE of sustaining talent.

That continues to be my wish … until I start to see ample EVIDENCE of a “plan.” Toby Enstrom was the first and only proactive contract by this organization. As I’m not too sure the 7 Dwarves can walk and chew gum, I’m not going to hold my breath.

STOP

April 4th, 2009
6:57 pm

Usually like Brendan’s comments, but STOP saying STOP. That one nuance of the writing style is getting old.

Go Thrashers!

Fire Waddell!

mknobler

April 4th, 2009
7:27 pm

Brendan I like your post, but Oystrick will be an unrestricted free agent. He is what’s called a Group 6 free agent: “any player who is age 25 or older who has completed three or more professional seasons, whose standard player contract has expired and, in the case of a player other than a goaltender, has played less than 80 NHL games.”

Jason(Darkhorse)

April 4th, 2009
8:22 pm

I’ve seen another poster with my name posting a few silly things on the blog this week. I have not posted in a few weeks, so I think a new screen name for next season is in order. I really feel like this team can be a solid “darkhorse” contender with a good offseason. By that, I’m realistically thinking a few playoff rounds at best right now.

LAC-As much as I would like to see DW shown the door, the second half of the season may have done enough to keep him here. But, if the ASG somehow moved him into a president type role, and brought in a new GM with complete player control, would that satisfy you enough in the offseason to consider throwing dollars their way?

Mike-I didn’t get a chance to respond about your interview with Kovy the other day. It was very nice as a fan to hear him say the things he did about Coach Anderson and related without you promting him to do so.

On 680 yesterday, Waddell told Kincade that Kovy has been doing and saying the type of things this season a person with one foot out the door wouldn’t bother with (not sure if that was a jab at Hossa). When Kincade asked about the franchise having the cash to sign him to an extension, DW said he was already making 7.5 a year, implying that a jump of a few more million wouldn’t be a problem at all. That might end up being the 3-5 Kari would have gotten, as I get a strong feeling he may be a victim of the numbers game in DW’s cap. DW may still not know which of the two goalies he should go with, and that’s where the money factor may make the decision for him, IMO.

Mike-With some player extensions signed this week by other teams, is DW talking like a guy that may do the same with players like Reasoner and Armstrong? The sooner he decides who he wants to sign that’s already here, the more time he gives himself leading into the draft and offseason to plug other holes. I don’t get the team’s self imposed, non-negotiating act when we’re not playing for anything other than jobs. And I would hope Anderson and Waddell have long since decided what they want to do with the two previously mentioned players.

Brendan

April 4th, 2009
8:35 pm

Mike , even more reason to lock Oystrick up, right? If Oysters is gonna be unrestricted, then he can sign anywhere he jolly well pleases, provided said market WANTS him. The portion of my post that I hoped you might comment on … was the part about the ownership setting the tone and cultivating a winning environment … during this upcoming offseason. What might actually happen is another $4-$5 million from the floor of the cap as the budget for Opening Night.

Dear STOP, I gotta be me. The second I stop being me, who am I?

ranallo10 (in AT)

April 5th, 2009
6:23 am

I like to pretend it’s a telegram, and without the stop it’d be one long run-on sentence after another.

Old Time Hockey

April 5th, 2009
11:21 am

This team has a few tough choices to make. As far as the goalies, look at the last two seasons for Kari and Ondrej. If both had those types of seasons in the juniors, who would you pick? I’d feel much better picking the guy who could make it through half a season without injury. Plus, with the flashes that Kari has shown, he is worth more on the market. Could he end up playing 70 games and lead a team to the playoffs? Sure, but are you willing to bet 5 million over 3-5 years? Like I’ve said before, if you commit to that and he gets injured again, you are in a really tough cap position. That is a difficult decision. Remember there was serious discussion about who to pick, Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning. Seems like an easy choice now, but it wasn’t then. Everybody mentions Ondrej’s poor showing this year, but ignore the fact that the previous year he looked pretty good in his stint with the Thrashers. I mentioned at the time that he seemed very good positionally. When Kari has struggled, he seems to get into poor positions. His hot play this year was due, in large part, to excellent positioning. Would have been nice to see if he could have maintained till the end of the season, but, of course, that is not possible….again.

Zach

April 5th, 2009
11:36 am

Mike,

You should be taking shots at the fans. Its pathetic, people just dont come to the games. I came to a lot of game a few years back when we won the division and fans were still not showing up. The problem is that fans in Atlanta are as fair weather as they get. I agree that management has not been great. At the same time, it can’t be easy for players to play with only 7,000 people there each game.

Old Time Hockey

April 5th, 2009
11:41 am

Interesting statistic. Kovy’s shooting percentage is 15.7 (good for 29th overall) and he averages 3.5 shots per game. Ovechkin ’s shooting percentage is 11.1 (146 overall) but he averages 6.6 per game! If Kovy averaged 6.6 shots per game and maintained his percentage, he would be on pace to score 83! Just bump it up to 5 per game and that is a 63 goal pace.

Brendan

April 5th, 2009
12:00 pm

Fans should hold management and ownership accountable. Otherwise, you get the Toronto Maple Leafs. Soldout, but Cup-less for over 40 years. Ownership gets its money … and is free to be as INEPT and INACCOUNTABLE as ever.

Regarding Kari, as Rawhide said recently, quitting on him is an ADMISSION that Waddell was wrong in 2002. And, Lethonen would be the 3rd lottery draft pick to depart the organization. Stefan and Heatley are the other two, leaving Kovalchuk, who is only under contract until 2010. Unless the organization grows a brain this summer. And provided that Kovalchuk is amenable to re-signing here.

I was at those two playoff games in 2007. I didn’t see ANY empty seats. I saw an arena full of Thrasher fans, waving “Unleash the Fury!” towels. I counted all of six Ranger jerseys in the stands. When some media sources told us that Philips Arena would be filled to the rafters with New York fans, who would drown us out.

Back in 2007, there weren’t many, but there were SOME dissenting voices regarding Bob Hartley. And still others thought the price we paid at the 2007 trade deadline was too steep, unless it took us to the CF. Well, obviously, neither Hartley nor Waddell was fired in 2007. And the team won zero games in the playoffs. Bygones.

But fans have the right to be unsatisfied with what transpired. That’s a form of accountability. It’s not entirely “lost” on John Anderson, either, as he specifically told his troops at practice, “We have to give our fans a reason to be here.” It sure didn’t sound like JA was advocating that fans should show up, no matter what. Or blaming them for the record.

Brendan

April 5th, 2009
12:51 pm

Shifting gears, Atlanta has clinched 4th place in the SE. Tampa can no longer catch us. And we cannot catch Florida. But something else piqued my curiosity. In preseason, I wouldn’t have thought it possible that the Thrashers might avoid 40 “regulation time” losses. They sit at 38, with four games left. Can they avoid the dredded 40? We’ll soon find out. And yes, they can reach .500 this year, if they won them all. It would set a franchise record for wins if it happens.

Phoenix is ahead us, but we have a game in hand. Los Angeles has played the same number of games and is also ahead of us, but not by much. If Atlanta won its game-in-hand on Phoenix, it puts the Coyotes into the lottery draft and bumps Atlanta out.