If someone had told you just last month that the Thrashers would be at 3-4-1 after the first two weeks or so of the season, I’m sure quite a number of you would have been OK with that. Two games against the three-time defending SE division champ Washington Capitals, a four game road trip just after the home opener…including three out on the west coast against teams like the Kings and Sharks…and even a couple against the much-improved Tampa Bay Lightning.
Not exactly the easiest way to kick off the new season. So being right around break-even can be placed in a positive light I suppose.
As coach Ramsay told Chris Vivlamore, “It’s scary sometimes if you look ahead [at the schedule] and I, honestly, try not to. But you couldn’t help but look at some of that and go ‘Uh-Oh, this is not good.’ When we initially looked at it and saw four in a row on the road to start, I thought we are playing good teams, it’s not good”.
Ramsay did go on to say that he was “pleased” at what his team has accomplished thus far, but not “thrilled”…which is a pretty fair explanation of how things have panned out, I believe.
To bring the coach’s thoughts into perspective, also take into account the following. What if…again, just prior to the season…you would have not only looked at the schedule, but were also told that the following would be the case after eight games.
Bryan Little would have zero goals and but three assists.
Rich Peverley would have zero goals to go with his four assists.
Fredrik Modin would have 1 goal, zero assists and would be a –7.
Nic Bergfors would have zero goals, three assists and will have missed three games.
Nik Antropov would have zero goals, 1 assist and a –3 rating while playing limited minutes due to not being 100% following his hip surgery last summer.
Chris Mason, the netminder brought in to be a stabilizing force between the pipes, would have a 3.54 GAA.
Zach Bogosian would have played in just three games, missing the last five due to a shoulder injury.
And only five players…Chris Thorburn, Brent Sopel, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager and the aforementioned Bergfors…would be on the plus side of the +/- rating.
Uh-huh…now toss into the equation the fact that the Thrashers not only have allowed 37.6 SA/G at this point, but the shots for/shots against deficit is –8.4. That’s more than the -8.1 SF/SA the 2007-08 version of the Thrashers put up…and we all remember what a success that season was, don’t we?
So you’ve got major players who’ve missed games, a lack of scoring from a number of top-six type, Mason giving up three and a half goals per game, numerous gaffs in the defensive zone which have led to goals and a defense that makes fans reminisce fondly of the good ‘ol days when they only gave up 33 SA/G.
Now if you take all of that into consideration, I’d be willing to bet that there are several who would have predicted the Thrashers would be lucky to have anything north of 2 or 3 points going into game nine in New York City. But instead, we’re looking at a 3-4-1. It’s not a winning record mind you, but given the circumstances…shrugs… I guess it could be worse.
Now, this isn’t to say that there haven’t been some good things to talk about. Certainly the 4 goals and 5 overall points from Anthony Stewart is noteworthy…as is the 3 goals, 4 points and +4 showing from Chris Thorburn. Taking three of a possible four points from the Caps early on is a bonus as is the fact that the much-worried-about offense has so far produced goals at a 2.75 per game rate, roughly the same as last year.
What concerns you most about the Thrashers?
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However this team has some issues to hammer out, and hammer out soon, if it’s to remain competitive much beyond the time we send the tax exemptions out to extort sugary treats from the neighbors.
And primary among those issues is…just as it’s been for some time now…the infamous Shots Against bug-a-boo.
What’s the root cause of this problem? Well, it could be that the “up tempo” style of play can sometimes leave a team exposed in back. Also don’t discount the Antropov situation. Last season he was a +13 player, so not having him on the ice as much this fall plays into the equation.
And then there’s the absence of one Mr. Pavel Kubina. Remember, he was a “plus” defenseman for the Thrashers last season into late March. Ultimately he finished EVEN before sitting out the last few games with an injury. I have no idea what Rick Dudley offered him last summer, but I’m sure there are many in Thrasherville who wish it were just a few dollars more.
But moreover, I think this SA/G issue is indicative of how much work Ramsay and Co. have to do to “un-teach” certain bad habits…specifically in regards to overall team defense. Taking a team that was constructed for a decade in the mold of “score a lot and defend when you can” and turning it into a defensively-sound unit takes more than just eight regular season games.
But here’s to hoping they un-learn those bad tendencies soon.
If not…well, their position in the standings certain could be worse in coming days.