Happy New Year Thrasherville and welcome to the middle of the season. Hopefully everyone out there had a great time ringing in 2011 and I truly wish everyone the absolute best in the coming year. Today brings with it the hopes and possibilities of what can be…as well as college bowl games a-plenty and the NHL Winter Classic in Pittsburgh.
By the way, speaking of today’s much-anticipated matchup against the Pens and Caps…in case you haven’t heard, it has been moved back to 8:00 tonight because of weather issues.
What today also marks is the exact middle of the 2010-11 Thrashers campaign. Yesterday’s lackluster 3-1 loss to the worst team in the NHL was game number 41 of the season and tomorrow afternoon’s tilt in Montreal begins the first game of the final 41. So naturally, today is the perfect time to mark just where this Thrashers team is currently, what they have done so far and look ahead to the possibilities of the next three-plus months.
We wake up this morning… possibly grabbing for a package of Alka-Seltzer and/or ice pack… to find the Thrashers with a record of 20-15-6. If they were simply to duplicate this effort in the second half of the season, they would wind up with 92 points and a playoff spot. All things considered, they are at or above where most of us though they would be and we can all be happy for that…despite their 1-4-1 record in the final six games of 2010.
However, as defenseman Ron Hainsey puts it, “It’s been a hard month, as hard as any I’ve seen since I became a pro. We battled through it and came out pretty well”.
“We’re pretty proud of what we’ve done so far”.
The Thrashers are in third place in the Southeast Division, three points behind both Tampa Bay and Washington. However, they have played three more games than the Lightning and two more than the Capitals. Atlanta is eighth points above fourth place Carolina, however the Canes have played but 36 games.
The Thrashers are in seventh place overall in the Eastern Conference, tied in points with the New York Rangers but having played three more games. The Montreal Canadians are a pair of points behind them and have two games in hand. So tomorrow’s game shapes up to be a pretty important one for both Le Thrash and Habs.
Atlanta has netted 127 goals so far this year. That is only one fewer that the Flyers’ and four fewer than Colorado and Detroit, who lead the NHL in goals scored. They still give up a concerning amount of goals, however…122 goals against so far is fewer than only the amount surrendered by the Avs and Edmonton.
The Thrashers are taking an average of 30.8 shots on goal per game and allowing 34.4, which are 14th and 28th in the league respectively. Atlanta has a 20.9% effective power play so far, (9th) and they are killing off 80.8% of the opposition’s man advantage situations, (18th).
Leading the way almost all season long has been defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. He leads the team in goals scored, 15, assists, 25 and overall points, 40. To top it off he’s also +6 and has played in all 41 games for the Thrashers. 5 of his goals have been game-winners, 5 have been of the power play variety, 12 assists have also come while on the man advantage and his 162 SOG also lead the Thrashers.
The Buffinator has quickly become the heart and soul of this new-look Thrashers squad and has endeared himself to the fans with his play. To me, he’s been the MVP of the first half of the season.
Right behind Big Buff in scoring is captain Andrew Ladd and fellow defenseman Toby Enstrom, both with 31 overall points. Ladd has done that with 12 goals and 19 assists while Toby has 7 goals and 24 helpers.
As for Ladd, the Thrashers are 13-6-3 since he was named team captain back on November 18. Is it just a coincidence that the team seamed to take off right after that announcement? I don’t think so.
Fresh off his first ever NHL career shootout victory, Ondrej Pavelec is now 13-8-4 for the year with a very tidy .935 SV% and 2.11 GAA. Given the amount of goals and shots allowed by this team, those numbers are even that much more impressive. Opie also has a pair of shutouts to his credit, both coming a week apart back in November against the Caps and Habs.
A win in Montreal tomorrow would equal his career best of 14 wins in a season set last year playing in 42 games, starting 40. He’s played in just 27 games this season and has started 25.
Opie would be my second choice as MVP, just a fraction of a hair behind Byfuglien. However, if he performs at the same level from here on out, don’t be stunned if he winds up as this team’s Most Valuable Player.
Who is the Thrashers MVP for the first half of the season?
Total Voters: 255
The +/- leaders for this team are Bryan Little, +12, Brent Sopel, +10 and Eric Boulton who is a +7. Ron Hainsey, Chris Thorburn and Byfuglien are each a +6.
Brent Sopel has blocked 60 shots this year, Enstrom 85, Ron Hainsey and Johnny Oduya have both knocked down 82.
Your hits leaders are Evander Kane with 73, Buff with 69 and Jim Slater with 59.
As for the men behind the bench, it’s certainly clear that for the most part these Thrashers have taken what coach Craig Ramsay and associate coach John Torchetti have been teaching and applied to their games. These coaches deserve a great deal of credit for where this team finds itself. There is still much work to be done, mind you…see also the past week and a half or so of play…but when viewed in the context of the initial three months of this season, I don’t of too many that can be upset with what has gone on here.
And finally, I haven’t offered up any “report cards” per se on this Thrashers team this season. I figure this course will be determined solely on a “PASS/FAIL” basis. They either make the playoff or they don’t. Therefore, no letter grades are necessary this time around.
That being said, if I were to give them a mid-term evaluation…I would say they are well on their way to “PASS”.