Last summer I asked the newly named head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers what he thought his main job was when it came to his new team. His response had little to do with on-ice strategies or evaluating player’s physical talents. Instead, he said his role here was to teach these players how to play the game and “Hopefully to make them the smartest team in hockey. And that’s what I consider my ‘job”.
“They’ll be better players, we’ll be a better team”, Ramsay went on to tell me. “And that’s what I think teaching is all about”.
He also explained that there would be a certain time needed to “un-teach” bad hockey practices that many on this team had slipped into over the past few years. And these Thrashers have proven to be quick learners…or should I say, quick “un-learners”…to his lessons as they have taken those lessons and have applied them to their work on the ice.
The results have been astonishing lately.
In the past eight nights, the Thrashers have gone up against division leaders Washington, Detroit and Montreal. Between the three of those teams, they had a combined record of 41-14-4 at the time they came into town to take on our boys in blue. The lone “gimme” on the slate was a New York Islanders team mired in a losing streak that had reached double digits.
But as it works out, the one “nail-biter” was the 2-1 overtime win against the Isles.
Not only that, but the Isles were able to score just as many goals in that one game as the three powerhouses did in their three games combined…one. That’s right, in 66 and a half minutes New York equaled the offensive production of the Caps, Wings and Habs during 180 minutes of play.
One lesson these Thrashers are having to learn is how to play with leads. Obviously, this is something they haven’t had too much opportunity to gain experience in over the past several seasons. But it’s coming pretty easy to them, it seems. They get an early lead, keep the pressure up and continue to play their game. During this current four game win streak, they have trailed for only 2:38 and have not relinquished a lead once they’ve taken it.
The latest victim to fall prey to these new and improved Thrashers was the Northeast Division leading Montreal Canadiens, who managed to get as many pucks past Ondrej Pavelec as the Southeast Division leading Capitals did last Friday…none, zero, zip, nada, nil, not-a-dad-gum-thing.
Pavs turned aside 25 shots to make the Habs the second team to join his personal “You’ll Get nothing and Like It” club this season. His record now improves to 5-4-2 with a 1.68 GAA and .946 SV%.
The Thrashers outshot Montreal 47-25…23-4 in the second period alone… and the 25 shots against were the fewest the defense has allowed this season.
On the other end of the ice, the Thrashers offense continues to get balanced scoring. Friday night it was Rich Peverley scoring twice as Toby Enstrom notched his third of the season. This comes after Wednesday night when Atlanta benefited from goals by Dustin Byfuglien, Anthony, Stewart, Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd and Chris Thorburn. Sunday it was Nik Antropov tying the game with Buff winning it in overtime. Last Friday they got five goals from five different skaters in the 5-0 pounding of the Caps…Antropov, Ben Eager, Evander Kane, Byfuglien and Alex Burmistrov.
“We are playing a full 60 minutes”, Peverley said after Friday night’s victory. “In the past we have had some lulls in the periods and I think we’ve done a good job of maintaining our consistency and focus”.
And while these Thrashers have outscored their opponents 15-2 in this current winning streak, have gotten great work in all three zones consistently, beaten some very good teams and have given Thrasherville possibly the best week of hockey ever…the big story here has been the play of the man between the pipes, Ondrej Pavelec. And the goalie’s play of late has given his skaters a great deal of confidence as well.
“I think it starts with Pavs. He has been playing awesome for us”, defenseman Zach Bogosian said. “It’s definitely comfortable for a guy like myself playing against some top lines and he’s behind you stopping a lot of pucks”.
Even if you go back to Atlanta’s last loss, Opie only allowed two goals on 34 Panthers shots. Since Mason got the hook in D.C. two weeks ago, Pavelec has stopped 161 of the 166 shots face during roughly 5 and 2/3 games. That’s an amazing .970 SV% during that span.
It’s kind of hard to lose when the other team can’t score on you. And opposing teams are finding it very, very difficult to score on this Thrashers team lately.
Whoa…I can’t believe I just typed that.
Of course, if coach Ramsay’s teaching of fundamentally sound hockey continues to be well received by this team and they continue to apply those lessons on the ice… just as they have lately…I may have to just learn to get used to typing that line more often.