Thrashers vs. Devils – A tale of two teams

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I take you back to December 18, 2010, the last time the New Jersey Devils played in Atlanta. They slumped out of town after being drubbed 7-1 behind an Eric Boulton hat trick and their overall record fell to 9-21-2. The Thrashers, however, saw their position in the NHL standings elevate to 18-11-5 and the 41 points earned after just 31 games were enough to place them atop the Southeast Division.

The lone goal scored by the visiting team that night was former Thrashers Ilya Kovalchuk. It was only his 8th of the season thus far.

We in Thrasherville were dancing in the streets with joy as we experience a type of success not often seen in these parts. Two days after crushing the Devils, they traveled to Toronto and blew away the Leafs 6-3 and whispers of “Jack Adams” floated around Craig Ramsay. Truly, it was the best of times.

Devils fans, on the other hand, were left dealing with the exact same kind of misery we usually are accustomed to…losing and lingering around the bottom of the standings. Surely it was among the worst of times for them.

Oh how times have changed.

The following week, following a 5-1 loss to Washington, the Devils relieved head coach John MacLean. 9 wins in 33 games, it would seem, is unacceptable for the New Jersey organization. That, plus it would appear there is no rule up there which states that a long-time assistant and AHL coach must be given a year or two into his first NHL head coaching job before determining whether or not things are working out.

Stepping back behind the bench for the Devils was their former coach Jacques Lemaire and the rest, as they say, is history.

After losing 5-1 to the Islanders, 4-1 to Toronto and 3-1 to the Rangers, the Devils welcomed in the Atlanta Thrashers for a New Years Eve matchup. The result was a 3-1 win for the Devils. They used that victory to then catapult themselves to a 30-7-2 record so far in calendar year 2011…including a ridiculous 20-2-2 run.

As for that Kovalchuk fellow…he’s netted 10 goals and 9 assists in the last 17 games, six of which were game-winners. Oh yeah…and he’s a +11 in those games as well.

In their most recent game they fell 2-1 to the last place in the east Ottawa Senators, but the Devils still remain as hot as the flames of Hell. So much so that Lemaire is now being given serious consideration for the Jack Adams Award… even if they do fail to make the playoffs.

Conversely… even though the Thrashers have found a way to win two straight games in overtime this past week, they’ve sunk like a rock in the standings in the past several weeks. Since we watched the Devils slip out of town with their forked tails tucked between their legs last December, they have gone 10-17-6…8-13-5 since the defeat in New Jersey to end 2010…4-9-2 since the All Star break.

Only three times since the Thrashers high-water mark last December have they denied an opponent two points for a win or even one consolation point for at least getting the game into overtime. They’ve procured 24 points in the standings since then, but have given away 42.

Too many times we’ve seen a minor setback in a game turn into a major crisis. One goal scored against us turned into a second one seconds later…three or four more before all was said and done. Skaters have quit before the second period was complete, pucks wind up in our goal after a failure to clear the defensive zone, the offense went AWOL for a period of time and adjustments made by the opposition went unanswered.

Now, as the two teams again prepare to face off at Philips Arena just three months later…they both find themselves clinging to their slim postseason chances, each with little to no margin of error remaining to play with.

As for the Thrashers, I would think that unless they can extend their current two-game winning streak to four, five or even six games with wins over the Devils and Philadelphia Flyers their hopes for the playoffs are all but gone. If they are unable to do so, then the remaining games will serve only to determine where they’ll end up in this summer’s draft.

But as we’ve seen with New Jersey, until a team is mathematically eliminated anything can happen. That’s why they play the games after all.

Regardless, when you watch these two teams take the ice tonight you’ll be watching a tale of two different teams…two different organizations…play out the final chapters of a season that has taken two separate paths since they last met here.

128 comments Add your comment

World Be Free

March 12th, 2011
10:00 am

Pavs deserves a better fate than this…..

Red Light

March 12th, 2011
10:05 am

One day, the Thrashers will learn how to win important, close games. For now, we must watch guys like the Devils’ Greene take one of Byfuglien’s shots off the toe, scramble to win a battle along the boards while playing 3-on-4, and watching the dinosaur Colin White beat Enstrom to a puck after the first face-off while playing 3-on-4 along the blueline. In short, the Devils displayed learned behavior last night on how to win games that they probably shouldn’t have. And, the Thrashers did the same thing they have been doing for years, earning one point in a vital game, rather than putting an opponent away when they had the chance.

Bad penalties, poor center ice and D zone coverage at times, being outhit in their own building and turning the puck over.

When will they learn?

World Be Free

March 12th, 2011
10:11 am

The last thing any New Jersey Devil player wants is to NOT hustle and then have to go back to the bench and face Mr. LeMaire. Do Thrasher players have a similar worry? Fear is a tactical tool in the right hands.

Smoothie

March 12th, 2011
10:26 am

Stroz – bravo sir! Elegantly stated and so very true. We lost a true hero and chivalrous man on Thursday. God rest Mr. Benning’s soul.

R/L, WBF, JoeF – y’all nailed it on the head. Too many careless mistakes and penalties. Perhaps the magnitude of the game (basically a must-win) gets into their young heads and causes them to play tentatively. At least it wasn’t a 3 – zilch or 4 – nada stinker like the ones they squeezed onto the ice last March when they faced a must-win contest for the #8 seed. Progress? I don’t know.

They have players who battle and hustle, but then there is always that nagging lack of talent which ultimately does them in. It’s like that Arkansas bread horse that cleans up on the intermediate tracks winning enough stakes money to get his head bashed in by classier horses at the Belmont. I do believe several good pieces are in place and there is much to build upon.

Enstrom stunk to high heaven last night, but let’s be fair, he’s been the best player on the ice for the Thrashers on several occasions this season. Just don’t know why he of all players wasn’t better prepared mentally for the game. Perhaps the Devils’ physicality got to him early and got him thinking too much. Probably the weight of worrying about his new defensive partner Mr. Bogosian Implosian. Although he seemed to play much better than Tobey last night.

Anyway, all of the dumb penalties were completely avoidable with more poise and composure, but there are too many weak links causing the fence to wobble and waver over the course of a game against a superior opponent. How could MacLean screw this team up THAT badly??

World Be Free

March 12th, 2011
10:48 am

Smoothie-you wonder if the hand is still bothering Toby and the leg still bothering Burmie. Boh guys were non-factors last night. Those refs were so awful last night too, no excuse cuz the Devils played with the same refs. But the Kane penalty in OT was a joke, make up call as we agreed. If you are going to call that stuff then don’t call any penalties at all. Let the players play and decide the outcome 4-4.

Smoothie

March 12th, 2011
11:03 am

Yeah, I fail to see how any real advantage was gained by calling Kane for the trip. The puck was pretty much already gone and I think Jersey still had possession, but I could be wrong. When it happened, I thought to myself “phew, we dodged that bullet”, then a full second later, since the Devs failed to make it through the NZ, the arm goes up and we bend right over on the penalty kill yielding to Mr. Kovalchuk and Travis “don’t call me Darcy” Zajac. Ugggh. Whoever’s in charge of the damn PP (Torchetti) needs to watch that puck movement sequence over and over and over until it sinks in. Our coaching doesn’t suck, but it pretty much blows when the chips are on the line.

Smoothie

March 12th, 2011
11:15 am

You know what’s worse than choking in a big game?

When the teams you’re chasing are choking as bad as you are making the opportunity to catch seem like a great, big golden prize that is almost within reach, but keeps slipping through your finger tips. To wit:

Since the All-Star Break, these are the records and points won percentages of our three primary foes (I don’t need to highlight how well New Jersey has played to rise from the depths of hell):

New York Rangers: 6 – 10 – 1 (13 out of 34 possible points or .382)

Carolina Hurricanes: 6 – 8 – 4 (16 out of 36 possible points or .444)

Toronto Maple Leafs: 10 – 4 – 5 (25 out of 38 possible points or .658)

Of course, Toronto had a much great gulf to traverse and even playing at that .66 clip over the last 15 games will net them only 86-87 points. For the Rangers and Canes, they are sitting in an awfully precarious position as their respective post-ASG pace has them on track for 84 and 85 points respectively. So it’s starting to look like 88 points will be the magic number with non-SO wins being a factor as a tiebreaker.

To get to 88 points, the Thrashers need 10 more wins or a 9 – 3 – 2 record at the very least to get to 88. Problem is they will lose any and all tiebreakers. So 89 is probably necessary for them. Hainsey said they need to win 11 games, but 10 – 3 – 1 is the minimum they’ll need for 89 points and then they’ll need plenty of help from not only the Rangers, Canes and Loafs, but also the New Jersey Devils who are still hotly nipping at their heels.

Tom

March 12th, 2011
12:05 pm

So here is my question today:

If we could get a new head coach tomorrow, would you prefer a crusty curmudgeon like Lemaire or a teacher like Ramsay?

I am going with the curmudgeon. He tends to win games and if the players don’t understand his system they leave. The teacher is always trying to work with the players and give them second chances.

Badger Bob

March 12th, 2011
12:11 pm

Stroz, very well said and we echo your sentiments. My prayers go out to Mr. Benning’s beautiful bride. Rawhide, you too are a class act for helping them get that 7th man award. I hope they keep that picture of them getting the award with Antro up at Phillips for the duration.

A positive last night was whenever Buff charged through the neutral zone and toward the net. It throws the other team into chaos, even a disciplined one like NJ. But it also throws our forwards into chaos as they figure out who is to cover his point. So why, then, is Buff not bolstering our forward lines? Would having Postma or Kulda on D really be that big a loss over Buff?

And as y’all, I remain haunted by the contrast of the PPs last night. NJ had a plan and they executed it each time. Ours is a mad scramble. Perhaps we need a new special teams coach? Suggestions for upgrading that role?

Sage of Bluesland

March 12th, 2011
1:34 pm

…Laughable that “all we have to do” is fire the coach…Laughable.

Yeah, based on our talent, we’re on the verge of the Stanley Cup…

Good Heavens. Stop listening to Joe-Bob-Revisionist-Historian…

Smoothie

March 12th, 2011
1:49 pm

BadgerBob – no doubt it makes you wonder if we wouldn’t be better off with Byfuglien charging down the wing and getting into the corners as a forward. It would certainly help balance our top two lines and considering Ramsay has shortened (sorry Timmy, not a shot at you!) his bench considerably, I don’t see why defensive pairings of Hains/Oduya, Zach/Toby and Stu/Kulda couldn’t manage to defend our goal adequately. If Buff is on the ice with Kane and either Burmy/Antro, I reckon we’d have a lot more zone time from our top two lines that would in turn take some of the heat off our defense. Isn’t that what Ramsay’s system is all about? Making the other team play defense?

It won’t happen, but I’d love to see these lines for the last 14 games:

Ladd-Lits-Wheeler // Kaner-Stapes-Buff // Schremp-Burmy-Antro // Boults-Thorbs-Dvo

Nobody pinch me, I don’t want to wake up!!

ZAvalanche

March 12th, 2011
3:47 pm

Buffy should have been playing forward a long time ago.

ZAvalanche

March 12th, 2011
4:06 pm

To make Thrasher Nation feel better, the Avs have lost 17 of 18 and are without four of their top scorers which just recently included Hejduk and possibly Stastny. 340+ man-games lost this season. Super. And like Thrashy, we play good for a large part of the game and then allow 4 (seriously, 4???!!!!!!) goals in a single period. I guess my sports season is over so it is on to watching reruns of Charlie Sheen’s reruns of his utter demise and collapse – sadly I can’t make his stand-up appearance in Detroit…………yeah, really sad.

World Be Free

March 12th, 2011
4:22 pm

Sage-nobody said the only problem with this team is the coaching. Nor did anyone state that a change in coachs would assure the Thrashers a Stanley Cup.

The on-ice tactics of this team are in question and the general feeling is that a different coaching philosophy may yield a better outcome on a game by game basis. Just look at special teams; the inability to kill penalties or be effective on a power play after calling a time out to discuss strategy.

It’s not the only issue, but it is one of the problems bloggers with hockey knowledge can address.

AtlFlamesFan

March 12th, 2011
9:36 pm

WOW! WOW! WOW!

litz

March 12th, 2011
9:36 pm

You want your shocker of the year?

Down 3-zip, 3-1, then 4-2 …

The “the season’s dead, over and done” Thrashers just roared back and beat Philly in OT 5-4 !

Thrashers27

March 12th, 2011
9:42 pm

OMG! I had given up.

Tom

March 12th, 2011
9:44 pm

That was fun. I almost turned the game off at 3-0 but I got the payoff tonight.

Sorry for missing the viewers party. Coached a 5 pm game at the cooler for inline and then raced down to our home rink so we could make youngest son’s game, or at least the last 2 periods.

I bet the party was a blast.

Tom

March 12th, 2011
9:47 pm

Oh, and 25 overtimes in 69 games. I wonder what the record is?

And kids, we are only 4 points behind a slumping Rangers after taking points in the past 4 games.

Brendan

March 12th, 2011
9:52 pm

If you’re the sort that believe in miracles, and I am not, then THISSSSS was the game you’ve been waiting for. This is the game where you say, “That was the moment.” If the Thrashers win all but one of their remaining games, they’ll make the playoffs. They’re 3-0-1 in their last four.

Let’s face it, down 3-0, coming into the 3rd period, this game was over. Their opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers, are the # 1 seed in the East. And it’s in PHILLY. And it’s SATURDAY NIGHT, where Pennsylvania’s loudest, most obnoxious,and DRUNKEST FANS come to dwell to truly be “puckheads.” It was over. Craig told Pavelec, “Take a shower, son. Your night is through.” Enter Chris Mason. Mason only gives up one (1) goal, a PP “hat trick” goal for Leino. Little did Leino know … that he was about to be fitted for goat horns. In the overtime, it was Leino’s turnover that led to the 2-on-1 that resulted in the OT GWG by Hainsey, from E. Kane and A. Stewart. How about R. Dvorak setting up Captain Andrew Ladd for the game-tying goal?!!

Flyers led, 3-0. Then 3-2. Then, 4-2. Then the Thrasher rally was on! The tying goal comes in the final minutes, with Mason on the bench, pulled in favor of the extra skater. For Hainsey, it’s his SECOND OT winner of the season. And how abou this?? Goals from defensemen. Toby Enstrom had one, too. Niiice.

If you believe in miracles, this is how it starts. I’m not a miracle advocate. I’ve seen two miracles in my life. One was the 1980 Olympic team. And the other was sneaking off with Becky Schmengler at the Spring formal, for some “night putting.”

ZAvalanche

March 12th, 2011
10:42 pm

Damn! Just got back from the airport and saw the final! Wow. If you are looking for a “heck yeah this is what we do” moment, this is the one you are waiting for.

LAC

March 12th, 2011
11:09 pm

If we played like this 3/4 of the season, Think how many extra points we would have in the bank ??

In all the years of Thrashers hockey This was THE BEST comeback I have ever seen.

There was a 6-5 win over New Jersey where we lit up old Marty for 3 in about three minutes about 5 years ago, but this was as exciting as I have ever seen this team play. Problem is… We cannot
seem to duplicate it game after game. Well motivation is the standings… And IF we do make it,
and play Philly in the playoffs, could we-would we ???

Great comeback, now for a solid effort in NJ to secure two more points as they are only two back now. I also LOVED watching their fans right after the goals, just loved their expressions of SHOCK & DISMAY !!!!!

ZAvalanche

March 12th, 2011
11:16 pm

LAC, I love to see you post a positive message! But no way in he!! Thrashy could take Philly in the playoffs, though I would love to see it.

LAC

March 12th, 2011
11:27 pm

Z, look at last year, Montreal was a Giant killer… What would that do for us if WE did it ?

To FINALLY go through the handshakes and we skate off WINNERS, I wonder could we all stand it being that good !!! Remember, it has to happen at some point. I just hope we don’t have a stinker in NJ Tuesday.

ZAvalanche

March 12th, 2011
11:39 pm

LAC, your are 100% right, and I hope to hell we do it. To hit a winning streak at this point would be amazing, unpredicted, and devastating to whomever we take down. Cross your fingers, kick the black cat out of the room, don’t walk under the ladder and just trust in Thrashy. Man, I so hope you are right (and sincerely apologize if you are not a man, just a figure of speech).

Rawhide

March 13th, 2011
8:15 am

Good morning gang. After last night’s thriller in Philly I have but one question for you:

Is it safe to use the ‘P’ word in Thrasherville again?

R. Stroz

March 17th, 2011
10:29 am

Rawhide

March 18th, 2011
3:34 pm

R. Stroz – Nope.