Just three days after their NHL Training Camp opened the Thrashers iced a team composed of prospects and border-line NHLers on Tuesday night. Many of the players are fighting for jobs (or attention) and had a reason to play hard, but the game was rather disappointing. The lack of familiarity and chemistry was apparent on numerous occasions. The power plays and penalty kills looked confused at times--then again the new coaching staff has only had three days to implement their special teams strategies.
But the biggest story was the shaky performance of goalie Ondrej Pavelec who never really looked comfortable all night. The 2nd goal came on a shot behind the goal line all the way over in the corner of the defensive zone, that simply can't be a goal. I have a hard time judging goalies, but he looked late when reacting to shots and nervous to my eyes. Hopefully this is just a case of first-game jitters because the Thrashers need him to improve over last season if they hope to contend for the playoffs.
The Petterson-Little combo looked very good at times. Little got a sweet pass in the neutral zone and was able to split the defenders for a great chance. Petterson buzzed around all the time trying to make things happen. He ended up with a Goal, Assist and Penalty--it was a stat stuffer night for him. Evander Kane also looked ready for the season to start and did nothing to alter my expectation of a major step forward for him this season.
On the other hand, Boris Valabik looked nervous and tentative. The war for 7th defenseman job is going to be intense and Valabik did little to help his case. Freddy Meyer, Arturs Kulda and Andrei Zubarev all looked better than him in my eyes. I was not expecting much out of Meyer but he demonstrated that he is a veteran who could fill in during an injury. Kulda was the only Thrasher on the ice to end the night in the plus side of plus/minus. The kid is ready, I wish the Thrashers would have given him more than 2 games last year. He's a better hockey player than Boris Valabik, I don't care if one guy was a 1st rounder and the other guy was a 7th rounder.
On the physicality front, Dannik Paquette got pushed around and owned in his fight. He had shown some improvement in Prospect Camp and Training Camp, but didn't look ready for the NHL last night. I was surprised by the lack of hitting and fights in the game. Both rosters were filled with guys who are battling teammates for checking line duties and yet there were few big hits. Nigel Dawes showed me enough last night to want to see him in more pre-season games. The guy is not big at all, but he at least attempted to throw a big hit on a Columbus player. Ben Eager must feel confident about his NHL job because he an opportunity to just destroy a guy on the boards and chose to go easy on him.
It was a rough start, but I'm not going to read too much into this game since only about 7-8 of these guys will make the final roster. Pavelec needs to bounce back in a big way and the same is true for Valabik. I'm looking to seeing a better game on Saturday.