I was incredibly disappointed by the Thrashers play on Sunday afternoon. I really had the urge to vent my spleen after that game but Timmyf beat me to that particular punch, so I'll try to be a bit more analytical in this post.
For as long as I can remember the Thrashers have ALWAYS struggled against teams that execute a hard trap in the neutral zone. A very simple explanation of the trap is that the defending team seeks to put all 5 of their skaters between the bluelines in the neutral zone which make it impossible to either skate with the puck or pass the puck in the neutral zone. The goal of the trap is to force the team to either a) play dump and chase style hockey or b) try to force passes that lead to turnovers and odd man rushes for the trapping team.
Because the Thrashers have built their roster around offense and passing the hard trap teams give them fits. If the Thrashers want to become a real playoff contender, then they must learn to make adjustments. If John Anderson wants to show that his uptempo systems work in the NHL, then his team must break the trap. The Thrashers tried to answer the trap by making perfect passes which played right into the hands of Carolina. To beat the trap you have to dump the puck deep and work as hard as they can to regain control in the offensive zone. It takes a LOT of hard work to beat the trap and too often the Thrashers went the lazy route and tried to make perfect passes.
The other thing that nearly made my head explode on Sunday was this: when playing a defensively sound team you must take one-timers on net. Over and over again when the Thrashers got the puck into the offensive zone but the player receiving a pass settled the puck before shooting it. Over and over again, this slight pause allowed the Carolina defense and goaltending to square to the shot and prevent a quality scoring chance. When playing a team that fills the shooting lanes you must shoot quickly! I was extremely disappointed that the team failed to make this adjustment. From upstairs it was bloody obvious that they needed more one timers--this should have been an in-game adjustment. Heck, they might have climbed back into the contest if they had simply started shooting one-times off the pass. EDIT: And I love Tobias Enstrom, but he simply must shoot the puck when he is wide open more often--every shot you pass up is a scoring chance that goes by the wayside.
Lastly the lack of discipline is really starting to hurt this team. The penalty killing has remained rather strong, but the Thrashers penchant for taking penalties keeps them from playing offense and it wears out their defense and goaltending. This season the Thrashers have been shorthanded about 4 times per game. But since the Kovalchuk trade the Thrashers have given the opposition way too many opportunities with the extra man.
- vs WSH 5 times shorthanded
- vs FLA 7 times shorthanded
- vs COL 4 times shorthanded
- vs MIN 4 times shorthanded
- vs CHI 6 times shorthanded
- vs FLA 8 times shorthanded
- vs NYI 5 times shorthanded
- vs TBL 4 times shorthanded
- vs CAR 7 times shorthanded
The team average is 4 Short Handed situations per game, but since the big trade the Thrasher have not played a single game with FEWER than 4 SH situations and they three times they have allowed 7 or 8 extra man advantages to the opposition. On Sunday the Hurricanes played with the extra attackers of 13.5 minutes in a 60 hockey game--and they scored twice which abbreviated two of those PK situations. In the first period the Thrashers were killing for 6 of the first 20 minutes and Carolina gained a 1st period lead late in the period with the extra man.
I’m NOT someone who is a big believer in fate, especially in sports. Players make good or bad plays--it is on them not on fate. Just because the Thrashers were bad in the past doesn’t mean they can’t be better in the future. Problems can by fixed. Give Anderson some credit, he fixed the PK, they studied it and got it working correctly. But the problem for the Thrashers is that they have little TIME to fix these problems. They can’t wait until the off season to figure out how to break the trap. We need more desperation and we need more adjustments on the fly, otherwise the players will be playing golf yet again.
The Thrashers are scheduled to play yet another defensively sound team on Tuesday (Nashville Predators). Can they adjust? Will they exploit the shot opportunities that become available?