If there is one thing we’ve heard consistently from coach Ramsay since he came here last summer, it’s that he wants to “teach” these Thrashers how to be “smart” hockey players. That means he wants in instill in them the ability to react when game conditions change…to be able to read the way things are developing and adapt accordingly…and to not make silly mistakes.
This lesson has been taken to heart for the most part of the initial half of the 2010-11 season…and the winning record reflects that. But every once in a while, there comes a moment where one play from one player can dramatically alter the course of the game. Such a moment came late in Sunday’s matchup against the division rivals Tampa Bay Lightning.
Atlanta had not played particularly its best game of the season to say the least. Some of that had to do with those wearing the home blue uniforms…a lot of it had to do with the way the Bolts play against us. However, thanks in part to a rebound game-tying goal by Fredrik Modin and a couple of key saves by Ondrej Pavelec late in the third period, the Thrashers found themselves in a position to snare two points in the standings.
Making matters even that much better, Victor Hedman had flipped the puck over the glass from Tampa’s defensive zone putting Atlanta on the power play with 1:13 remaining in regulation. This gave Atlanta a chance to steal away a win with a power play goal…or at the least go on a 4 on 3 man advantage in overtime for 47 seconds.
Now…I don’t know exactly what the success rate is for teams converting power plays in overtime is, but I’d dare say it’s pretty high. Case in point, it took Vinny Lecavlier and the Bolts a grand total of 26 seconds to do just that once Hedman was freed from the sin bin. But I digress…
The reason why the Lightning were able to go on the power play in the OT period and not the Thrashers was because Dustin Byfuglien had taken a very unnecessary and ill-timed boarding call with just over 10 seconds remaining in the third period. It was a penalty taken in the offensive end of the ice, it was born out of frustration from the defenseman and negated the power play.
It was momentary lapse of reason from Byfuglien…one that I’m sure he’d like to be allowed a Mulligan on. But it’s also exactly what coach Ramsay can point to as an example of just what results when…even if just for three lousy seconds…smart hockey is not displayed on the ice.
Not only did it take a way the coveted 4 on 3 situation for the Thrashers heading into to overtime…instead, allowing Tampa to skate 3 on 3 until their Hedman’s delay of game violation had expired… but it gave the opposition that 4 on 3 chance. And as pointed out above, it took them just over two-dozen ticks of the clock to use it fully to their advantage.
Making the unfortunate penalty even more egregious is the fact that it took one of the Thrashers defenseman and major special teams players off the ice when the game hung in the balance. And remember, Big Buff has already notched a pair of overtime game-winners so far this season. Having a clutch guy sitting in the penalty box at this juncture of the game…well, that’s simply un-good.
Now, make no mistakes here. Byfuglien has been nothing but a Godsend to this franchise. He has been an integral part of the team’s overall success during the first three months of this NHL campaign and he’ll be a major part of far more wins than he will be in disappointing losses.
But this mistake hurt.
What might have been a win leaving them one point behind Tampa Bay and two behind Washington in the race for the SE lead…they now trail both the Lightning and the Caps by three. Still a ton of hockey to play, mind you, but you get the point.
“Yes,” Ramsay told Chris Vivlamore after the game when asked about Byfuglien’s boo-boo. “He knows he made a mistake. Unfortunately it cost us. We still managed to get a point. We have to be smarter.
“We talk a lot of discipline”, he continued. “We’ve had it but we have to stay disciplined throughout the game no matter what’s happening around us.”
But, as it is said, what’s done is done. Ramsay’s aim now is to make sure the team…not just Buff…understands that what happened Sunday night is a prime example of what happens when you stop being “smart” out on the ice and allow your emotions to take charge.
Call it a teachable moment, if you will. A point in a long 82 game season that possibly cost you a point in the standings one of the teams they’re jockeying with for position…not just in the conference, but in the Southeast Division as well.
Mistakes happen in hockey…even at this level. But it’s the good teams and good players that learn from these errors and don’t repeat them. And this is what Craig Ramsay means when he speaks of “teaching” these Thrashers how to be “smart” hockey players.