This was it: the game the Thrashers needed. It's proof that, given the opportunity, they will play for themselves, and they will play for each other. Ron Hainsey and Zach Bogosian dropped the gloves. Johan Hedberg was fantastic. Colby Armstrong was... Colby Armstrong. And Niclas Bergfors, the new kid, shows us what he's capable of:
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Zach Bogosian, American Hero.
Looked like a pro out there. Burke and Co. don't know what they're missing. My vote is give the kid the 'C'. He's a gamer, and he's a leader. It's not even a question.
Now, all of this is not to say that the game wasn't without its' minuses. Seven minor penalties? Yes, a couple of them were suspect, but many were avoidable. We're seeing many more little dipsy-doo moves and "nifty" drop passes. High-risk/high-reward plays that backfired against the Capitals on Friday, but worked much better against the Panthers. Picked up on the difference between those two teams? If the Thrashers hope to be a playoff contender, they have to figure out when and where to apply the hot dogging.
Overall, the pluses outweighed the minuses. Given the travel day the team endured, they came out a played a solid game. Outstanding puck movement on the power play - something that's been missing of late. One of the concerns I had steming from the Kovalchuk trade was how would Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov react? Obviously, they're professionals, and they're going to do the job they get paid to do, but when (arguably) the single biggest factor in their playing here has moved on, what happens? The Washington game was difficult for both of them, but tonight was a different story. Max potted the first Atlanta goal, and Nik picked up three assists and a +1 rating. Ron Hainsey was all hustle, even picking up that fighting major, and Pavel Kubina had two assists on the evening.
Thrashers don't have much time to rest on tonight's feel good comback victory. Two days off, and then they head west. Looking ahead this week, the Thrashers have three more games before the Olympic break, and none of them look to be easy:
|Philadelphia||New Jersey (twice)||Montreal (twice)|
|Tampa Bay||Vancouver||Boston||NY Islanders|
The only games on that grid that don't have a large and immediate impact on the Eastern Conference standings are Rangers/Predators and Lightning/Canucks - all others are the proverbial four-point games. After that, almost a solid month away from the NHL, playing different systems on different teams for different reasons. As I said, this was a game the Thrashers needed - let's hope it's the start of something big.