Given that the Thrashers are 10-6-1 and currently riding a four-game win streak, there have been quite a few pleasant surprises seen so far. As such, I’ve compiled a list of what I feel are the eleven most pleasant surprises to date in this still-young Thrashers season and have bundled them up to present to you now for two reasons.
1. I would like for you to vote on which one you feel is the #1 most pleasant surprise 17 games into the season, and…
2. To give people like Jack Bryan IV at Inronstone Bank something to read and think about while killing off another four days between games.
So, why “eleven” and not the customary “ten” that normally accompanies such a list? Well, as I was putting this piece together I found myself struggling to limit the list to just ten…which is odd seeing that in years past, come mid-November, I would have been hard-pressed to come up with just a half dozen or so. I guess in a way that alone is a pleasant surprise.
Anyway…so this one goes to eleven.
Now keep in mind that when it comes to some of the players on the list, it isn’t that I’m “surprised” at the fact they are playing well…really, it’s the level or degree of play they have sustained over the course of the first month and a half of the season.
With that in mind and with no further ado…here are my 11 nominees for most pleasant surprises of the year, in no particular order.
Ilya Kovalchuk: Not that anything really “surprises” me anymore when it comes to the captain’s on-ice prowess…but this year even more than in seasons past, he seems to have grabbed this team and propelled it to a level of play it otherwise could not have realized. He started off scoring 9 goals in the first 7 games…breaks his foot…is supposed to missed 3-5 weeks, a dozen or so games…instead returns after missing just six games…then proceeds to score 3 more goals and chips in 5 assists in his first 3 games back, leading an offense that has scored 15 goals in those three matches.
Now that’s what I call taking ownership of your team.
The Record: The 10-6-1 start is exactly what the doctor ordered for this team. The past two years have seen them get off to horrific beginnings and it set the tone for the whole year. We began to see last spring a foreshadowing of things to come, but questioned whether or not the good play then would leap over through the summer to this fall.
I think any such doubt has been officially dispersed.
Rich Peverley: After 17 games, the Thrashers leading scorer is the player who makes the least amount of money on the forward line…at least until his nice raise kicks in next season. The Peever just continues to dispense out the points, netting 8 goals and his 15 assists is second behind Nik Antropov’s 16. 5 of those goals have come on the power play and 3 have been game-winners. This isn’t too bad for a guy that the Nashville Predators where trying to slip through waivers last January.
Gawd-almighty…could you just imagine the bitchin’ and moanin’ we’d all be engaging in if the situation were reversed and it was Don Waddell who allowed this guy to get stolen off the waiver wire?
Evander Kane: The fourth overall of last June’s draft was welcomed with open arms by Thrashers fans as we all knew he held a promise of good things to come. But how many figured those good things would come so early just this fall. Thus far, the 18-year old has accounted for 6 goals and 5 assists. Those 11 points are 6 best on the team…right between the two most recent young stars Toby Enstrom, (12 points) and Zach Bogosian, (10 points)… and Evander’s +9 rating leads the team.
Yeah…I think the kid can stay.
Zach Bogosian: And speaking of Zach…his 8 goals equals Peverley for second most on the squad and his 10 overall points are 7th highest. 2 goals have come on the PP and one was a shorty. Watching him guide the puck up ice in his powerful fashion is a thing to behold, my friends. Combine that with his play in the defensive zone, and sometimes one forgets that he only has 64 total NHL games under his belt.
No sophomore slump here.
Most Pleasant Surprise So Far This Season?
Total Voters: 193
Goalkeeping: Hard to believe that just two short month ago, many of us were wailing and gnashing our teeth over the fact that “Kari Down ’09” had actually come upon us even before the season began. We had the likes of Manny Legace in camp on a pro tryout…but instead the brain trust of Waddell, Dudley and Anderson decided to turn to Ondrej Pavelec…who at the time owned career stats of 6-10-0 with a 3.42 GAA and .890 SV%…with Johan Hedberg backing him up. Many thought they were smoking Opie-um for going this route, yours truly included…but it’s seems to be working out just fine so far, thank you very much. Opie is 6-5-1 with a 2.90 GAA and .917 SV% and just last Friday he laid the first goose egg of his career, blanking the Kings 7-0. And not to be overlooked is Johan Hedberg, who is kickin’ it in the support role. Moose has compiled a 4-1-0 record with a 2.63 GAA and .923 SV%.
I guess unlike that “other stuff…Opie-um isn’t bad for you.
Road Record: The Thrashers have indeed become road warriors…going 6-2-1 outside of Thrasherville. Two of those losses, a 4-2 defeat in Ottawa and a 2-1 shootout loss in Montreal, have already been avenged as Atlanta has returned to the scenes of the crimes and come away with a 3-1 win against the Senators and 5-4 victory versus the Habs.
By the way…we return to Long Island the day after New Years. Just sayin’…
Special Teams: OK, I know it’s placed down the list…but this is the one that gets my vote for the #1 most pleasant surprise so far this season. This is especially true with the penalty kill unit, which has been effective 84.5% of the time, (5th best in the NHL). Compare that to last season when they were only able to deny the opposition success during the man-advantage 76.0% of the time, (29th). Then there is the second best power play in the league right now, which makes teams pay for their on-ice transgressions 26.5% of the time.
You remember, of course, that it wasn’t too long ago that we wished the team could decline the penalty like they can in football?
Maxim Afinogenov: Mad Max is seriously earning that $800,000 the Thrashers organ-I-zation is paying him, eh? So far Afinogenov has 7 goals, 17 overall points and is a +1. In the last three games he’s tallied four goals and is a +4. Along with fellow countrymen Antropov and Ilya Kovalchuk, Max has completed the top line for this Atlanta team and the trio seem to be creating more and more chemistry by the week day hour minute.
Oh, and who do you think leads the team in shots on goal? Why…it’s Max with 41.
Playing Like A Team: Sounds kinda cliché…yeah, I know. But really, this version of the Atlanta Thrashers is playing more like a cohesive unit than any has is many, many moons. It shows in their passing…the overall flow of their play…the way forwards back check more than in days gone by…and how they fight for each other and with each other.
You pick on one…you pick on ‘em all.
Pavel Kubina: I’m gonna name all of the quality, solid, dependable defensemen on par with Pavel Kubina that the Thrashers have had in their history…awkward silence…OK there, want me name them again? Look, this guy is big, knows how to use is size to his advantage, is a strong presence in the defensive zone and knows how to step up in John Anderson’s offensive style of play. The coach told me recently that his veteran leadership extends off-ice in the locker room as well…that he knows just what to say and when to lighten the mood with a witty quip. Kubina is just what this team needed this season.
Of course, we could just sum up this way:
Kubina = 3 goals, (2 PP), 5 assist, +7 with 16 PIM in 16 games played.
Exelby = 0 goals, 0 assist, -7 with 15 PIM in 10 games played.
With apologies to NASCAR Dave…’Nuff said!