Atlanta Thrashers head coach Craig Ramsay dropped the dreaded F-Bomb on his team after losing in Dallas. It was their fourth straight defeat and eleventh in the last sixteen. In fact since the 5-4 win on Long Island last December 11, the Thrashers have netted but three regulation wins. And in that span of time they have seen a slim lead in the Southeastern Division and second overall in the Eastern Conference evaporate to the point where they are now clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the east.
Certainly that would cause the good coach to curse, right?
Well, that or may not be so…but this F-Bomb wasn’t the one you might be thinking of. It’s not the kind that was affiliated with former coach John Anderson’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moments, as seen so many times during TV close-ups in the previous two seasons.
No, the F-Bomb Ramsay chose hang on his squad was a word Anderson would also use frequently when discussing Thrashers teams under his direction…“fragile”.
“We are a fragile team at this moment”, he told Chris Vivlamore after Saturday night’s 6-1 defeat to the Stars. “We expected a bit of a roller coaster this year. We’ve grown as a team. I thought the response from the team, for 45 minutes, was excellent. As soon as something went against us, we didn’t have the right response”.
As much as I hate to say it, “fragile” is indeed a very adequate word to use to describe this current crop of Thrashers. They are easily broken when certain things don’t go their way and once in that state, it’s difficult to put them back together.
Take the latest string of losses strung together by this team. The four game losing streak began just over a week ago against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a one-goal game more than halfway through the second period, but a string of mishaps and Ben Eager lapse of reason turned it into a 9-3 route.
Last Friday, the Thrashers fought hard against the conference leading Flyers…a scoreless game deep into the second period. They even managed to take a 1-0 lead thanks to captain Andrew Ladd, but they could not handle the success. 36 seconds after Ladd’s goal, a block shot at the blueline turned into a breakaway tying goal…21 ticks of the clock later, Atlanta was down 2-1.
After Philly untied the score once more in the third, they went on to a 5-2 win.
Once again out in Dallas, they found themselves in a one-all game in the latter stages of the second period. They had even recovered well from a Stars power play goal in the first period that was set up by an unfortunate…no, wait…make that, a most egregious…no, actually that should read… a power play goal that was set up by an absolutely bogus goalie interference call.
But much like the games illustrated above, the tight game turned quickly into another lopsided loss.
Just last fall, this same team had a swagger to them that exuded nothing but confidence. Get down by an early goal or two…no problem. Have a bad call or unfortunate play go against them…bah. Brush it off. One just knew they’d come back and make a game of it. But lately, if anything happens that puts them back on their heals even slightly, it seems like they fall apart quicker than a middle school girl if she sees her boyfriend talking to another girl.
But now, the question is…what can be done to turn this thing around soon before the Thrashers find themselves back in their old familiar place in the standings, below the postseason playoff line of eighth place.
I don’t think there is one single elixir that’ll cure what ails this team since there isn’t one single issue that is single-handedly hurting them. But here’s a couple quick thought on what certainly couldn’t hurt the cause.
First of all, the penalty kill play right now is certainly…well…killing us. During the recent four-game skid, they’ve allowed 4 power play goals on 5 opportunities to the Stars, 2 on 4 tries to the Hurricanes and 5 such goals on only 3 man advantage situations to the Leafs.
Getting Jim Slater back into the lineup once his concussion has healed would surely help, but not standing around like statues would go a long way in correcting the problem too.
Secondly, Zach Bogosian should not be playing top-four defensive minutes for quite some time. To put this as politely as I can, the kid simply looks lost out there too often. And if I’m not mistaken, Zach was on the ice for five of the six Dallas goals Saturday night.
Is Bogosian solely to blame here? Nope…of course not. But he’s hurting, not helping this team by having so many minutes logged, especially at even strength. That, plus his play is also bringing down linemate Johnny Oduya, in my most humble of opinion.
For those who are calling for Bogosian to be traded or sent to the AHL Wolves, I can’t say I agree with that position. It’s still way too early to give up on this kid. Besides, he would never clear waivers on the way down anyway.
Now if there is one area in this organization that could deliver a good kick in the pants to get this team back on track, it’s the front office. The trade deadline is still several weeks away, but I say, “Why wait”. I’d love to see Rick Dudley push the buttons on some deals that would bring another top-six forward this way to take the place of Fredrik Modin in the everyday lineup and a gritty, scrappy lower line winger that would take the place of Ben Eager’s spot on the roster.
Yes, Modin has been out due to injury lately, but when he returns, it should be primarily to the press box during games. Spencer Machacek has played OK during his time here in place of Modin, but let’s be honest…he’s not going to be the magic bullet needed for a serious playoff drive.
I’m not too worried with the situation between the pipes. Despite his recent struggles, Pavelec should do just fine getting the bulk of starts down the line. And if Chris Mason’s injury sustained in Dallas does keep him sidelined for any period of time, I’ve no problem at all with Peter Mannino filling that gap.
But in reality, the biggest stride this team can make right now is for everyone on this roster to re-evaluate his own self and what it is he is bringing to the ice each and every game. Coaches can coach, captains can lead…but this slump is team-wide right now. And it’ll take a team-wide effort to pull them out of it.
One thing is for sure, though. Whatever remedies the Thrashers front office and coaching staff may have for what ails this team needs to be administered quickly. Otherwise the F-Bomb may be flying from them and the fans more frequently as we watch the playoffs slide away once again like front wheel drive compact cars on Atlanta roads this past week.
And this time, the F-Bomb i’m referring to is not “fragile”.