Opening disclaimer: With the Atlanta Thrashers only having played 31 of the scheduled 82 games, there is still a lot of hockey season yet to go. With that in mind, no team…the Thrashers or any of the other 29 NHL teams…have punched their tickets to the playoffs this coming spring. Nothing said or implied in today’s blog by the blog host or commenters below should be taken as anything but a reflection of the first two and a half months of the season and the possibilities of what may or may not be yet to come. Any and all projections are to be considered with the understanding that past performance does not always guarantee future results.
OK, with that said and out of the way…
For several years now I have opined that the best team ever iced by the Atlanta Thrashers organ-I-zation has been the one that played in the 2005-06 season…the first one coming out of the lockout. Many point to the one that performed well enough to make the playoffs the next year, but I still believe the one before that was a better unit as a whole.
Secondary disclaimer: Of course, discussing which of the previous ten Thrashers teams was the “best” is much like discussing what was David Caruso’s “best” ever movie performance. There’s just not a lot to choose from there. But I digress.
Coming out of the work stoppage that season, Atlanta had on its rosters players like, Ilya Kovalchuk, Marc Savard, Marian Hossa, Scott Mellanby, Bobby Holik, Slava Kozlov, Greg DeVries, Peter Bondra, Nic Havelid, Shane Hnidy and Jaroslav Modry. That squad, as you’ll recall, suffered through an ugly start of the season due to plethora of goalie issues but still managed to work it’s way back into the playoff picture… only to fall just short in the closing weekend of the season.
I also believe it was Bob Hartley’s finest coaching in his career behind the bench.
Kovalchuk finished that season with 52 goals and 98 overall points, Savard dished out 69 assists to go with 28 goals and Hossa finished that year with 39 goals, 53 assists and team-high +17 rating. Five defensemen, Havelid, Hnidy, DeVries, Garnet Exelby and Andy Sutton finished on the plus side of the +/- rating.
Regardless of which team in the past you might argue is the “best Thrashers team ever”…one thing I think we can all agree upon is that the current version of this team has the potential of becoming the undisputed all-time best.
Now, I’m quite sure there are some of you out there who are already mumbling under your collective breaths about me putting the proverbial cart before the horse or that I’m suffering from a case of premature speculation, but… pointing to the opening disclaimer…I am seriously coming to that notion. Of course, watching them rattle off ten wins in the last twelve games will do that to a person.
Currently, this team has 37 points after 31 games played. If they secure two points tomorrow night in Tampa, they’ll have 39 after 32 games, which would put them on pace for right at 100 points for the season…again referring back to the disclaimer.
While it’s true that this time last year, they had the exact same record they have now…17-11-3…there is a bit of a difference. First, we are ascending in the standings instead of descending, as was the case 12 months ago. And now, we aren’t being held hostage with the drama surrounding trying to re-sign the “face of the franchise” to a $10 million per season deal. Thus, among other reasons, I don’t think we’re going to see the kind of slide in the standing that produced last year.
The team that qualified for postseason four years ago did so by scoring 246 goals that year. This year, the 99 goals netted after 31 games put them on pace…again, pointing to the disclaimer…for 262. If anybody would have told you last September the Thrashers would be popping in goals a rate of 3-plus per game at this juncture, would you have looked at them as if they had just stepped off the spaceship from Venus? I know I would have.
They are doing this with a great deal of balanced scoring from all skaters. Last night it was Bryan Little with a pair of goals and a couple from the fourth line. Saturday it was Johnny Oduya potting two in the win over the Islanders. Prior to that, it was Zach Bogosian winning the game in overtime after Andrew Ladd had tied it up. Recently we saw Anthony Stewart win a game in OT out in Colorado. If it’s not one of those players, then it’s Dustin Byfuglien, Rich Peverley, Evander Kane or [fill in name of Thrashers player here]providing the heroics.
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Needless to say, a team simply cannot close one player down and take their chances with the rest of the squad as they’ve been able to in times past.
Byfuglien is currently on pace for 85 points, Ladd is on pace for 61, Toby Enstrom for 59, Peverley for 53…so on and so on. Again… pointing above to the disclaimer… past performance does not always guarantee future results.
Then we come to the play coming from between the pipes…the position that doomed the 2005-06 campaign right out of the gate. What more can be said of Ondrej Pavelec?
But it’s not just his individual performance, which has been nothing short of spectacular. It’s been the incorporation of a team-wide effort on defense that…while not perfect by any stretch of the imagination…has shown improvement as the season has progressed.
Last night, Thrashers color commentator Darrin Eliot… himself a former NHL netminder… pointed out how Opie was being used as an integral part of the overall defensive scheme. When the puck was to his left, Pavelec knew he could square up to the puck, knowing he had two skaters out in front to protect the weak side.
Using the goalie as part of a defensive strategy? What a concept…
All this adds up to a team that finds ways to win games that Thrashers teams of past would not have, should avoid prolonged periods of poor play and come this spring should find itself jockeying for playoff positioning…not just a playoff spot.
Once there, they’ll have a chance to do what no Thrashers team has ever done before, actually win a playoff game. Maybe they’ll even do what no NHL franchise in Atlanta has ever done…advance to the second round. If so, then certain this year’s team would have to be considered the undisputed “best ever”.
Remember…pointing above…the disclaimer atop the post.
Final disclaimer: No cats were left out in the cold, abused or in any other way, shape matter or form harmed in the making of this blog.