Saturday morning I asked you to tell us who you thought the Thrashers MVP was for the first part of the season. After offering up Dustin Byfuglien as my choice, the debate was on. Some agreed with me…however, most opined that it was goalie Ondrej Pavelec who was the team’s top performer over the first 41 games.
The discussion so far has been lively, to say the least…both in the blogosphere and in the twitterverse. Shortly after posting the piece, Thrasher TV contributor and 680 The Fan’s John Kincade tweeted to me his feelings on the matter.
“Is that REALLY a question? Buff is great but OP is the MVP, without him they are not in a playoff position!”
As I stated earlier, there were many like Kincade who cast their vote for Opie. And those who posted comments in support of the netminder did so with very, very compelling arguments. And while I still stand by my choice of Byfuglien for MVP over the initial 41 games, no one can dispute the fact that Opie’s play between the pipes has been nothing but MVP-esque.
And like I stated in the previous blog, “…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.”
There were also some who pointed out that Toby Enstrom should get some MVP love from Thrasherville as well. “He is the guy that allows Buff to push up”, frequent blog contributor Tom pointed out. “He is the guy who makes the best breakout passes on the team. He is the foundation of the power play”.
Cornbread even offered up a “none of the above” vote for a hard working forward who may not get the headlines but works his butt off night after night when he wrote, “Though the MVP candidates are all great choices. I’m going to vote ‘Other’ and go with a blue-collar type. The non-skilled player who epitomizes the way Coach Ramsay would like for all his players to play – listening Bergfors? – is Chris Thorburn”.
“I really liked what I saw last season and this year he has continued to grow and step up his game”, Cornbread continued. “Chris Thorburn is becoming one Hell of a Hockey Player.”
Our good buddy World be Free agreed and added, “[Thorburn] kills penalties, block shots, challenges forwards and pointmen in the defensive zone instead of standing there and letting them make plays.”
Captain Andrew Ladd got some MPV consideration, as did Bryan Little. But most votes when to Opie, Buff and Toby…in that order.
Now, the reason for this review of the hypothetical first half MVP from the previous blog is because of how Sunday afternoon’s game in Montreal played out. During the 4-3 overtime win over the Habs, it seemed like all the players we considered for the honors were doing their part to justify why they deserved to be a part of the debate.
First, there is The Buffinator scoring yet another game winning goal in overtime. That’s the third time he’s done so in the extra period and the sixth time he’s played the hero by notching a game-winner. It was also his sixth power play goal of the season.
If he continues on this pace, he is going to wind up with about 30 goals and 82 points. That, plus he’s a +8 after 42 games.
Then there’s Toby Enstrom who dished out, not one…not two…but three assists in the win. The first one came on a nice give-n-go play with Rich Peverley on his first period goal. Toby paid the price for the pass as he simply got rocked at the blueline just after dishing it back to Pevs. The last one, of course, was on Byfuglien’s game-winning blast in overtime. And as Tom would remind us, it came while on the power play.
Enstrom is currently on pace for 50+ assists on the year.
Not to be overlooked here is Captain Ladd’s goal with just second remaining in the second period gave the Thrashers a 3-2 lead heading into the second intermission. Late period goals are among the timeliest and, as things turned out, it was the goal that allowed them to get to overtime one period later.
Prior to Ladd’s goal, Thorburn’ work behind the net drew the attention of an extra defenseman which led to Evander Kane’s…scored as butt was in contact with the ice. Thorburn’s effort proved to be just enough for Patrice Cormier and Kane in front of the goal to get the job done.
For Cormier, earning the primary assist on the goal was his first-ever NHL point.
None of this would have mattered one hill of beans if not for the continued amazing play of Pavelec, who was called upon 50 times he was called upon to turn aside a Canadiens’ shot…and 47 times he did so. He was assaulted with 16 SOG in the first and third periods, 17 in the second. Time and time again he denied Montreal the chance to take the lead and gave his skaters the chance to ultimately steal two points from a game they very easily could have lost.
Opie tied his career season win mark at 14 with the victory and he now has a .936 SV% and 2.14 GAA.
“[Pavelec’s] great every night”, Byfuglien said of his teammate. “He’s been stopping pucks for us all year long and that’s what we need. He gets the first one and we get the second one for him”.
“Our team’s all about having fun, working hard and playing together”, Buff added. “We’ve been doing all right this year”.
So, while we may continue to debate just who might or might not be the Thrashers first half of the season MVP, the same cast of characters have already begun to make their case for the second half and overall season MVP.
But one thing that cannot be debated is this: If Pavelec continues to kick out pucks to the degree he’s been doing… and Byfuglien continues to score big goals…. and Enstrom, Ladd, Thorburn, Little and [fill in any Thrashers player’s name here] continues to contribute their parts as well…we’ll be able to not only continue this debate for another three months and into April, but we’ll be able to argue which one was “most valuable” in getting this team into the playoffs.
Not a bad debate to have amongst friends, is it?