In any sports season, a team is going to be faced with adversity and must find a way to deal with it…to overcome it…if it is to succeed. These are known as “gut check” times because it is how the players and coaches deal with these situations that tell you a lot about what these guys are made of…find out who is there to play and who is there just to get paid.
For this edition of the Atlanta Thrashers, that time came shortly after 8:00 pm Friday night. Brooks Laich had just taken a pass from Tomas Fleischmann and deposited the puck into Atlanta’s goal. It came at the 3:18 mark of the opening period. Laich had slipped in behind Toby Enstrom and was left all alone to make the play.
If Enstrom and the rest of Thrashers looked a little lost when Washington scored that goal, its because just moments before they had just seen their young goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec, carted off on a stretcher. After just 2:25 of play, Pavelec fell backwards, hit his head on the ice and lay spread-eagle on the ice…motionless.
We heard later on that Ondrej was awake and alert, asking for game updates, and today Chris Vivlamore reports he’s resting in the hospital after suffering a concussion from the fall. But at that time…just after he was wheeled off and Laich scored the goal…there was an eerie, uneasy feeling in the air of Philips Arena. Concerned for Opie, yes…however, there was still over 56 minutes of hockey to be played and the men in blue found themselves down a goal to the high-powered juggernaut known as the Washington Capitals.
Indeed it was an early gut check call… a test of this team’s character. And we were going to find out real quick whether or not these Thrashers were going to have the same label of “fragile” hung around their necks as teams of the recent past had.
Consider the test “passed”.
Chris Mason, who stepped in for Pavelec, stopped 29 of the next 30 shots he faced, Evander Kane scored twice and the entire team played some of the most intense, focused, inspired hockey as has been witnessed here in many moons. And Atlanta came away with a 4-2 opening night win.
Kane’s equalizing goal came just before the 8-minute mark of the first as he acquired the puck center ice, then craftily weaved his way over the blueline. He then beat Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth with a blast from between the circles. Later in the game Evander converted a penalty shot which put his team up 3-1. This came just over three minutes after Andrew Ladd deflected in a Johnny Oduya blast at 15:43 of the second period.
Freddy Modin would take a Nik Antropov face off win to blast home the Thrashers’ fourth goal. It put them up by the winning margin with exactly five minutes left to play.
This was a great team win…solid defensive work, capitalizing on opportunities on offense, timely saves and good effort killing off all four Washington power plays. All this after seeing Opie carted off and the Caps take an early lead.
The Thrashers answered this season’s first “gut check” call. Let’s see if they can carry that ino tonight’s game in Tampa.