Those were the days. Remember?
On Dec. 20 the Thrashers decisively beat Toronto in the 35th game of the season. Two months into the season they had a 19-11-5 record and were firmly in playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Many were calling the Thrashers the surprise of the NHL. Not any more.
Since that win over the Maple Leafs, Sunday’s opponent, the Thrashers have won just six times in the past 27 games. A dismal 6-15-6 recorded has yielded just 18 of a possible 54 points. They have fallen to 11th in the conference, six points out of playoff position, with 20 games remaining. They are on the brink of missing the playoffs yet again, an all-too familiar refrain.
“I believe this team is capable of much more,” Thrashers general manager Rick Dudley said. “Maybe they have to learn that it isn’t acceptable to lose as we have lately. Someone has to step up and say ‘This is not good enough guys.’ It has to come from within the dressing room. This is not satisfactory. I think those people are in there. Sometimes it comes out of necessity and right now it’s necessary.”
Here’s a quick look at some of what has gone wrong.
1. Lack of scoring
The Thrashers entered the season without a preeminent scorer. The plan was to score by committee. It worked for a while. Through those first 35 games, the Thrashers outscored their opponents 114-96 by averaging 3.3 goals per game. At one point, they lead the NHL in total goals.
However during the current slump, they have been outscored 58-102. They are averaging just 2.1 goals a game while surrendering 3.8. The Thrashers are 14th in the league in goals per game and 26th in goal per game allowed. Not a winning combination.
“Getting scoring from everyone we thought was going to be vital for this team,” coach Craig Ramsay said. “That hasn’t worked as well as it did earlier in the season. We’ve had limited scoring and we need every line to score. We need every line to accomplish something.”
2. Special teams
While the Thrashers are the sixth least penalized team in the NHL, yet the penalty kill unit is 28th in the league with a 76.8 percent success rate (50 goals allowed in 216 chances). Ramsay laments such things as hooking penalties in the offensive zone and high-sticking calls. Look no further than last week’s game in Edmonton. Holding a 3-1 lead, the Thrashers allowed three third-period power-play goals. Another loss.
“I don’t think we play smart enough to win the hockey game,” goaltender Ondrej Pavelec said. “It was 3-1 in Edmonton after second. We played great. We should win that game. A couple of bad penalties and when they are on the power play for 10 minutes in the third, we are not going to win.”
The Thrashers have the eighth best power-play unit in the league but have allowed way too many short-handed goals to the opposition. They have allowed seven, 25th in the NHL, with five coming during the recent stretch. Two were the first goals of the game.
“You can’t sugar coat that,” Ramsay said.
3. Inability to handle adversity
When things have gone against the Thrashers this season, they have don’t handled it well. They have allowed an opponent back-to-back goals in under two minutes 21 times this season. Six of those quick scores have come 39 seconds or less apart.
“I don’t think we are handling adversity very well right now,” Anthony Stewart said. “When something bad happens it collapses from there. We just have to weather some storms, if we have a lead or fall behind, not to collapse. We have to work for the full 60 minutes and not let a three or four minute lapse cost us the game.”
The Thrashers have generally gotten solid goaltending during the current slide. When you go from extraordinary, as it was to start the season, to good then the lack of scoring is compounded. Ondrej Pavelec was once second in the NHL in both save percentage and goals-against average. He is now 15th in save percentage (.919) and 25th in goals-against (2.66).
Pavelec has appeared in 24 of the past 27 games, including a stretch of 18 straight games. In his last 24 games, Pavelec has a .897 save percentage, 3.25 goals-against average and a 6-12-5 record.
It doesn’t help that the Thrashers allow the most shots on goal in the league, averaging 33.7.
There are other things wrong. What would you add to the list?