The last four games the Atlanta Thrashers have blocked an incredible 62 shots (while their opposition blocked just 32). Their positional defense was very good in the home-and-home sweep of Philadelphia. But the key indicator of team success in the post-Kovalchuk era has been their offensive output.
Since the big trade the Thrashers have played 16 games. When the Thrashers score three goals or more the team's record is 8-0-2 and when they score 2 goals or less their record is 0-5-1. That is a pretty stark difference. Three goals has been the tipping point.
How about defense? When the Thrasher allow 2 or fewer their record is 5-2-1 and when they allow 3 or more their record is 3-3-2. Obviously, they are better when they allow fewer goals, but the difference is not as stark as the offensive side of things.
The Thrashers face an enormous game on Tuesday night against the Bruins. A win on Tuesday would put them in possession of 8th place (although Boston would have one game in hand). As a hockey watcher I'm tremendously excited about the fact that they have put together an unlikely hot streak to claw their way back into this race. During the 5 games loss streak, I remarked to a friend "I can deal with not making the playoffs, but it sure would have been nice for them to stay in this thing and battle right down to the final weekend." Well it looks like my wish might actually happen now.
Even if the Thrashers do beat the Bruins, they face some daunting obstacles. There are also some very tough teams coming up on the end of the season schedule. Once they get past them, they face teams that have been eliminated--but those clubs are playing for pride and for jobs and they can easily beat the Thrashers if they let up in the effort department.
Lately the Thrasher have benefited from good fortune in terms of facing Brian Boucher twice and catching both Ottawa and Philly on a downswing. On the long run that sort of luck tends to even out. On the flip side, the Thrashers could stay lucky in the short run, sometimes you flip a coin and you get a series of "heads" even if the coin is fair. There are only 10 more games left in the season--a victory over the Bruins and 6 wins after that might be enough to put them into the post-season party.
If the Thrashers manage to go 7-3 over the last ten, all it would take is a 6-5 record by Boston or a 4-6 record by Philadelphia or Ottawa and Atlanta slips in. If just one of those teams teams (BOS, PHI, OTT) keep struggling over the final weeks the door is open for a hard working and lucky Thrashers squad.
Can they keep the offense flowing? Can they keep scoring enough goals to pull that off? Can they get the Power Play to heat up? Who will step up and get hot next?