When you are the Atlanta Thrashers, there is no such thing as a “cream puff” on the schedule. There really has never been a time in their previous ten seasons when they could look at the schedule and say to themselves, “Well, we can go into this team’s building…get our two points, and then see what we can do against this other better team the next night”.
In fact…for most of the past decade, the Thrashers have been that first team.
But tonight might…might…be the exception to the rule as the Thrashers go up against an Anaheim Ducks team that has, shall we say, struggled to take flight so far in this still-young NHL season. In their first four games, the Duck have given up 16 goals while netting but six of their own. In doing so, their defense have given up an average of…are you sitting down for this…an average of 46 shots on goal per game.
That is shocking…even by Thrashers standards.
How bad is the Ducks defense? Well…their defense is so suspect, that many who frequent this online forum have suggested Anaheim might have been tempted to trade anything of value for Boris Valabik…that is, before he was placed on waivers today.
Duck netminder Jonas Hiller has started all four games and has already seen 165 shots launched on him and his goal. Fifteen have made it by, giving him a 4.17 GAA and .909 SV%. But truth be told, it looks as though he could file suit against the skaters in front of him for lack of support.
Given all of that, it would be understandable if Thrashers forwards arrive early at the rink tonight, licking their chops to get out there against the Ducks’ defense. Players like Rich Peverley, Nik Antropov, Bryan Little and rookie Alex Burmistrov are yet to tickle the twine yet and I’m sure will be gunning to get off Schnied Island sometime tonight.
Same so Nic Bergfors, if he starts.
But while some may see tonight’s matchup as a blessing from the schedule making department of the hockey gods, I would warn against looking past this game forward to tomorrow evening’s appointment in the shark tank.
Why? Well, like I said above…this team cannot afford to look past any team. The Thrashers’ defense themselves are still allowing 30+ shots per game themselves, and the power play unit has looked completely disorganized so far. Don’t think for a second that Anaheim understands this and will come out playing a chippy game, unafraid to take penalties by playing physical.
That being said, if you’re on the Thrashers bench tonight, you have to think this is the kind of team to face if your power play unit is going to click…at all…against anybody.
This could also be a great chance for coach Ramsay to possibly try out that crazy, wacky, far-fetched, off-the-wall, zany idea of using Byfuglien on the power play.
Heck, could the addition of Big Buff up in front of Hiller while on the man advantage net any worse results than the previous fourteen or so power play chances? I think not.
Lastly, it appears Craig Ramsay will be looking to play Chris Mason both nights during this back-to-back set. Two points tonight will go a long way to taking the edge off of tomorrow’s game. Really, ya don’t wanna be in a position where you’re looking to a game in San Jose to salvage any points on a four-game road trip.
This is the main reason we brought Mr. Mason into the Thrasherville fold in the first place…to give us quality starts night in and night out. Even if that means being skated out between the pipes on two consecutive nights. A good goalie is going to steal you a game or ten over the course of the season…one or two this weekend would be just dandy.
No local TV tonight, same too in San Jose. But those of us with Comcast will view it on the Center Ice free preview.
Chris Vivlamore reported today that the Thrashers have waived defensemen Boris Valabik. The 6’-7” Slovakian had not seen any action in the first three games this season. In fact, he hasn’t seen ice time in any game since the first preseason match last month.
The move made way for forward Jim Slater to return to the lineup after nursing a sore wrist.
In 80 career starts at the NHL level over the last three seasons, Valabik was a –14 with seven assists. He has yet to notch his first career goal. He also amassed 210 penalty minutes, 132 in 2008-09 when he played in 50 games.
Assuming he’s claimed off waivers, I think the Thrashers are basically doing with him the same thing they did with Kari Lehtonen last winter…cut bait and move on. The 6’-7” Valabik was their 10th overall pick in 2004, but he was slow to develop and injuries hampered his 2009-10 season.
In the one preseason game versus Columbus, Boris played very poorly, ending a –3. That he didn’t start any more after that…and Freddy Meyer did…made it clear to me that his days here were numbered. And the move made today makes it clear Meyer’s performance during the exhibition season earned him a permanent spot on the Thrashers 7-man defensive corps.
If Valabik does clear waivers, then he’ll report to Chicago to play with the AHL Wolves.
However, there’s a numbers game there too. If a defenseman were to be needed for an emergency call-up later in the season, I would think Arturs Kulda gets the nod first before Valabik. Kulda has played well in his few games here last winter, plus he had a decent preseason and training camp showing.
As for my immediate reaction, I would say the right call was made here. Although Valabik has improved on his propensity to take the untimely penalty, he’s slow and his skating skills have only improved slightly since his first appearance in Atlanta three years ago.
If he makes it onto the roster of another team… good luck to him.