The Atlanta Thrashers lost 5-0 on Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a game in which they were out-played and out-shot 33-22 as their top scorers and top defensemen did not dress. After the game, Coach Anderson was philosophic about the outcome.
"Everyone has their own philosophy about who to dress on a certain night. Nashville dressed their best line and they were men among boys out there. And that's OK, that's part of it. We had indoctrination by throwing them into the fire to see how they would react.
Anderson thought the rough 1st period was a case of stage fright as much as anything else.
"They were nervous, you could see it right from the start. Oystrick falls down with no place to go. It kind of scared everybody. They were nervous whenever they had the puck. It got better as the game went along. We did make some plays, we have to remember that none of these guys have really played together."
There was both a talent and experience mis-match between the Thrashers and Predators last night. I asked Coach Anderson what his goal was for that game.
"Very simple, I want to see if someone can play in the National Hockey League."
Did anyone make that kind of statement in the 5-0 loss?
"Arturs Kulda stepped up. He had some big hits and a big fight. MacIntyre was strong in the 1st period. Popovic got better as the game went along. Stapleton and Krog--I liked them too. I thought Evander Kane got better as the game went along."
For prize rookie it is a big adjustment going from facing junior players to NHL level competition. Coach Anderson pointed out that this is Kane's first taste of what NHL game action looks like. It is the first step in evaluating his readiness for the big leagues.
"Kane has played against junior players. Even at the Traverse City Camp he mainly faced junior guys. We need to see how he reacts if he is going to play in this league."
Mark Popovic was very active in the contest. He frequently pinched all the way to the slot area trying to spark some offense. Anderson noticed his aggressive play.
"I had [Mark] a couple of years ago in Chicago. He scored something like 16 goals for me. He's an offensive guy who can handle the puck and he's a decent skater, so we have to look at him pretty closely"
In the first period Drew MacIntyre single handedly kept the contest close. The Thrashers were back on their heels in awe of Nashville. He stopped numerous point black chances. He did allow 2 goals in the first, but in each case he made the initial save and the puck went to the opposite side of the ice. Once a goalie is down, it is very difficult to respond to a change in the point of attack. Coach Anderson talked about his game:
"I don't know exactly how many shots we allowed in the first period, but he kind of kept it close for us. It was his first game and I think he was drained by the end. The only goal I didn't like was Weber's goal. But it is, what it is. Overall I thought he played a strong game. We had a lot of action around him and for a first game it was pretty tough on him."
After the game Drew MacIntyre was kind enough to talk about his start. It was the first time he had played an entire NHL pre-season game, in previous stops he had been allowed just one period to show what he could do. Don Waddell had mentioned the previous day that they scouted MacIntyre in the AHL and really wanted to add him to their organization. I asked him about the Thrashers pursuit of him over the summer.
"I was a little surprised--with the goalies that they have in their organization. But I'm grateful for the opportunity. I just wish that I had played better for them."
Asked to assess his game, MacIntyre felt he made some strong plays early, but made some mistakes as the game wore on.
"I wanted to give our team a chance to win. I think I did that at the start, but then I let in some soft ones. It is disappointing way to start...I was too deep in my net, I have to get out higher for those."
MacIntyre was obviously not pleased with the final outcome of the contest, but he did draw some confidence from making some tough saves on NHL level shooters.
"I know that I can play here [in the NHL.] I have to play better than I did tonight. I'm ticked off about the weak goals and I'll work to address that."
Another pleasant surprise for the Thrashers in an otherwise rough evening was diminutive forward Tim Stapleton. He came to Atlanta this summer as part of the Exelby for Kubina trade. He is now past age 25 and not really a prospect anymore, but after 4 years of college hockey and 2 years in the Finnish league and one season in the AHL, he's a polished offensive hockey player. Stapleton's scoring numbers in the AHL are similar to numbers that Rich Peverly put up in the minors. If Stapleton does not make the Thrashers out of camp, he could be called up to replace an offensive player in the team lineup.
Stapleton had played just one pre-season NHL game prior to last tonight. He said that he received only a small amount of ice time in that contest. The Thrashers game him a much longer look last night and they informed him that he will play in the 2nd pre-season game in Tampa Bay on Friday.
He was very active during the contest and displayed both good skating ability and puck abilities. I asked him about his play.
"I was trying to do everything that the coaches wanted me to do. The coach likes skilled plays and I was trying to use my skill and do good things when I had the puck. I started off slow, but felt better as the game went along. I thought our whole line played much better. It was tough to lose, but we'll have to focus on tomorrow."
Stapleton was traded for the first time in his career and is adapting to a new organization. I asked him if there was a significant difference between the systems used by the two franchises.
"I think so. We're a little bit more open here in terms of using our skill and making plays. In Toronto they focus a lot on getting the puck deep and not turning it over. I feel a bit more comfortable here with the style the coach wants us to play. I'll keep trying to make plays and hopefully good things happen."
I asked him about the mid-summer trade to Atlanta and the opportunity for him in this organization.
"I thought we were close to a signing a deal with Toronto. I had actually moved back there this summer-that's how the business works. To be traded here, I was really excited and I'm still excited. I think this is a good opportunity for me in a new organization that wants me to play the style of game I'm capable of playing."