After again watching 16 other teams compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup last spring, seeing Evander Kane taken with the fourth overall selection in the draft, learning of the trades and signings that brought players such as us Pavel Kubina and Nik Antropov, observing training camp activities and becoming reacquainted with the team in preseason…we have now finally made it through to the other side. One more summer has come and then taken it’s leave of us as we find ourselves now standing at the threshold of the tenth season of Atlanta Thrashers hockey. As such, it’s time for me to gaze into my crystal ball and see if I can properly prognosticate what lays ahead for the residents in Thrasherville.
Well, actually…I don’t really have a crystal ball. I did asked the AJC to procure one for me but the request was denied. The guys downtown were, however, kind enough to forward me this old Magic 8-Ball from the 1970’s. But I’m sure it’ll work just as good…right?
First we’ll review the offense, defense and goaltending… then we’ll get to my prediction on how many points they’ll earn and where they’ll finish in the standings. Let’s begin first with the strength of this team, shall we…the offense.
Take a look at the potential top three lines here…Kovalchuk-Antropov-Little…Kozlov-White-Afinogenov…Peverley-Reasoner-Armstrong. On paper, that’s about as potent an offense as we’ve come to see in these parts. Last season the Thrashers attack scored goals at a clip of 3.05 per game…which was the ninth-best in the NHL. During the second half of last season that was closer to something like 3.44 G/G.
I’m very excited about seeing Antropov on Kovy’s line with Bryan Little. This is a guy the captain lobbied heavily to get in here, so you can bet your bottom dollar that Ilya’s all geeked-up about it himself. My only concern is Nik being in the center.
Count me in as one of those who sees the signing of Maxim Afinogenov as a very good thing for Atlanta. Oh, and the price is right too…a mere $800,000.
Also, It’s great to have the likes of Marty Reasoner, Colby Armstrong, Todd White, and Slava Kozlov returning as well as the fourth-liners of Jim Slater, Eric Boulton and Chris Thorburn. There was a good deal of chemistry formulated via their great run to end last season and I think it’s something that will carry over this fall.
And I’m very excited about seeing a full season of The Pevs Dispenser dishing out his passes and serving up good, responsible play in the defensive end of the ice.
So, my first question for the Magic 8-Ball is…can this year’s offense perform at or above last year’s?… shaking Magic-8 Ball…”Outlook Good”!
Next…will Kovalchuk score 50 goals and 100 points?…shaking Magic 8-Ball…”As I See It, Yes”.
What about the power play…can it do better than last season’s 11th best 19.3% efficiency?…shaking, shaking…”Most likely”.
Honestly, John Anderson’s O-fense is going to do just fine overall.
The addition of Kubina is a big plus for the Thrashers…not just on the blueline, but on the power play as well. He’s big, 6-4 and 244 pounds, and can use his size well. He’ll probably be paired with Ron Hainsey, who’s entering his second year as a Thrasher. Zach Bogosian gets to officially drop the title of “rookie” from in front of his name and should see Super-Swede Tobias Enstrom alongside of him. Rounding out the defensive corps will be Boris Valabik, Mark Popovic and Anssi Salmela…two will play 3rd line defensive minutes, the third will observe the action from the press box.
Gotta tell ya folks, this has the potential of being the finest group of defensemen this organ-I-zation has assembled. But I say this for different reasons than the offense. Whereas the front lines have been fairly decent at times over the years, the words “Thrashers” and “defensive powerhouse” have rarely ever been used…uh, OK make that “never”…never been used in the same sentence together. But this group appears to be more solid than what we have grown painfully accustom to in these parts.
Look, nobody expects this defense to operate with the efficiency of a finely tuned Swiss watch…but as long as they don’t more closely resemble Swiss cheese, they’ll be fine. Especially if the offense is crankin’ out goals the way I think they will be.
Shots against are usually a problem with defenses past. Normally opposing teams will take 32-34 per game on the average…40+ games are not uncommon. This is especially troublesome when so many come at close range. Last spring this improved some…both in overall numbers of shots taken and proximity. And while I look for that trend to continue, one should not expect anything near the Red Wing-esque 25 or 26 SA/G numbers.
But the main issue on defense is the penalty kill. This particular aspect of the Thrashers’ game has been weak for years…at or near the bottom of the league. If last Sunday’s 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay is indication…giving up 3 power play goals…then this is going to be a major problem.
Solution? Well…stay out of the penalty box, I guess.
One last thing…team defense requires forwards to back check and help in the defensive zone. A lot of the problem in the past has been the lack of this. One of Anderson’s biggest chores this fall is to address this and improve it. Doing so will go a long way in determining the team’s success.
Now, back to the Magic 8-Ball. Can this defense hold teams to at or below 30 shots per game on a regular basis?…shaking Magic 8-Ball…”Signs Point To Yes”.
OK, what about the penalty kill…can it at least look respectable?…shaking, shaking…”Don’t Count On It”.
Goals per game…can it hold teams to 3.00 GA/G or less? …shaking, shaking…”My Sources Say No”.
This defense looks to be bigger and stronger than those of the past. The question is…will it be less porous?
Early on in the summer, this was seen to be an area of strength for the team. Kari Lehtonen played very well down the stretch and we have the ever-reliable Johan Hedberg backing up. Ondrej Pavelec was available if need be to be called upon in case of an emergency…just as he was during “Kari Down ‘07” and “Kari Down ‘09”. However, it was a given that he would otherwise spend his time with the AHL Chicago Wolves.
The fact that we were so deep in goalkeepers led general manager Don Waddell to openly discuss how one of them could/would be used to trade for a player that could sure up other areas of concern for the team.
Kari went under the knife in July to address a herniated disc in his back. Before you knew it, “Kari Down ‘09” came about sooner than expected.
The organization was prudent enough to invite veteran netminder Manny Legace into camp for a tryout…but ultimately Waddell & Co. decided to offer Manny…and his 177-92-18-18 record, 2.38 GAA, .912 SV% and 23 career shutouts… a contract to play in Chicago with the Wolves. According to C-Viv, he chose to try to find another team in the NHL or in Europe.
Pavelec…with his 6-10-0 career record, 3.42 GAA, .890 SV% and as many career shutouts as your or I do, zero….will more than likely be between the pipes on opening night.
Now, all that means is Opie once again has a chance to be a hero. If he can help welcome Kari back…whether that’s in two games, two weeks or two months…to a team that has a winning record, or even just break even, then he’s done his job and everyone is happy.
Returning then to our Magic 8-Ball… overall, how will the goalkeeping be for the Thrashers?…shaking, shaking…”Cannot predict Now”.
I would assume this is because Kari’s return is still yet unknown and Opie’s abilities as the starter is still a big question mark. Quite frankly, the sooner Lehtonen returns, the better.
Recap And Prediction Time
So then what do I predict will be the fate of this Tenth Edition of the Atlanta Thrashers during the 2009-10 NHL campaign? Well, I think that a lot of the good play we saw last spring was not a fluke…that we’ll see more of the same through the course of the season. There was a good amount of team chemistry that was created by their success then and we should see the benefits of that throughout the season.
Shake up your Magic 8-Ball and tell me what it says about the Thrashers playoff chances
Total Voters: 158
The defense looks a lot better to me then what we’re used to seeing…especially that top-four group. While I’m not expecting them to lead the league in stats, if they are simply average we’ll be fine.
Goalkeeping, especially at the beginning of the season, is a concern of mine. But I think…no hope…no pray… that Opie and Moose will be able to handle the first few games until…crossing fingers…Kari returns in a few weeks. Lehtonen showed us last spring what he could be once healthy and focused and I would have been a lot happier if he were starting and not Opie. Sure wish I knew who was in charge of deciding to wait until July to have the procedure done and not earlier on.
As for special teams, the power play will be fine, penalty kill…not so much.
Bottom line, I have this team pegged for anywhere from 86 to 90 points and making a run at the postseason. How well the defense is improved and what happens in goal will decide where in that range they’ll fall. For the sake of Brendan’s Points Prediction and Placement Contest… think we will see a team that’ll finish with 88 points, say a record of 39-33-10, and fall just short of the postseason…third place in the Southeast Division and tenth place in the Eastern Conference. Unlike last year, I don’t see them being quite so Jekyell and Hyde by playing very poorly one half then very well the next. I think they’ll be more consistent as the season progresses.
Oh, I almost forgot… one last, very important question for the Magic 8-Ball.
Will Ilya Kovalchuk re-sign with the Thrashers soon, or will we be dealing with this throughout the season…possibly into the summer?
shaking the Magic 8-Ball…”Reply Hazy, Ask Again”.
shaking again…”Ask Again Later”.
shaking again…”Cannot Predict Now”.