Hey! Maybe we should play against stickless goalies more often!
I freely admit, after two periods of watching the Thrashers skate around and barely really try to defend the net (Johnny Oduya, I'm mostly looking at you, bud), I flipped on the St. Louis game. If I was going to watch a team lose, I was going to at least watch a team try while losing. It does take a lot to get me to turn off a game, but for some reason last night's effort just smacked of SSDD a bit too much.
Apparently it did for goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk as well. Not one to speak to the team as a whole - because, well, there are three other coaches who are supposed to do that - Malarchuk decided to stick up for the guys that he's responsible for, because they were the only ones doing their jobs:
"I kind of got a little irritated and … it's not my place to do this. It's not my place to talk to forwards or defensemen or the team. My job is the goalies," said Malarchuk. "I turned around and I said you guys got to understand, these guys (goalies) play every night and give us a chance every night. Can we not just gut up and do it for teammates? We are a family and we have to understand that when one guy is down or the other guy is down, you fight, you push. We're family. Let's do it, boys."
Thank God someone held the team accountable for what was going on out there those first two periods. It must be the same principle as when you have a parent who never speaks regardless of how you screw up, so when they do call you out on it you know that you messed up badly.
The goaltenders and the fans who are watching have cried the same thing over and over again - not just this season, but under John Anderson as well: crash the net! Get in close! Have someone positioned for the tap-in or rebound! These things work. Not every goal is a perfect shot from the point or the circles that breezes past the goalie. Sometimes they're not pretty, and sometimes they're just flat-out fugly, but a goal has never been called off on account of fugliness. Ask Keith Tkachuk and his 8 or so missing teeth.
Oddly, though, the Thrashers haven't been able to compute the fact that what works for their opponents so well is what they need to do themselves. Get to the net and be able to overwhelm their goalies. Don't let them have a clear line of sight on a shot. Chris Mason and Nik Antropov after the Senators game (as Sweech pointed out in his fanshot) pretty much told the team that's what they needed to do. Carey Price mentioned how easy it was to stop all of the shots that he did against the Thrashers because he could see every single one of them. Opposition goalies have started to tell our team what to do to win - that's how bad it is.
Clint Malarchuk helped the guys buy a clue. Who better to tell guys how to score than a goalie.
You can tell that the shoot from anywhere philosophy wasn't working just by looking at the shot-tracker for each period:
Four shots were within reasonable distance of the goaltender for a chip in, or a deflection off of a rebound. One shot was above the left face-off circle where the goaltender could have a pretty clear sight line. Two were point shots from the blueline that were more than likely unscreened (I don't remember off of the top of my head), and three were from the neutral zone. The two closest to the Philly zone were by Dustin Byfuglien, who presumably was shooting a slapshot on the goalie that was intended to create a rebound if it didn't go in. I'm really not sure what the shot at the center line by Enstrom was about. Was that a dump in that made it to the goalie? Or do the guys really think that shots from center-ice can go in? I hope it's option 1.
Well, they're getting closer. And by closer I mean no shots from the neutral zone. Four shots from the point, two from the top of the right face-off circle, two from a fairly reasonable distance away that could have been tipped in had someone been in front of the net, and three right up in Sergei Bobrovsky's grill. Still, a majority of those are low-percentage shots that are easily visible to the goaltender.
Well hokey smokes, Bullwinkle. Look at how many shots were right there on net. The one goal that happened from the front of the face-off circles back was Zach Bogosian's bomb dead on from the center of the blue line, and that was because Bobrovsky was being screened by Bryan Little. Evander Kane's goal and Andrew Ladd's game-tying goal were both crash the net kind of plays. Enstrom's goal from the bottom of the left playoff circle was because Enstrom was doing something fairly uncharacteristic - he was in the process of driving the net, and the fact that Bobrovsky was stickless was probably a huge helper as well.
Just two shots needed to end this game. One was Ladd's shot from near the blueline to get the puck in, and one was Ron Hainsey's tip in of a perfect pass from Evander Kane to give the game to the Thrashers.
Out of the five goals scored, three were in close where the goaltender had issues seeing, one was a perfect position with a goaltender who didn't have a stick, and one came from the blueline with a player screening the goaltender. Aside from the stick-less goalie, this has been how the Thrashers have scored - when they have scored - over the past few months. The low percentage shots from outside just don't seem to work, and shooting anywhere gets you nowhere. You're not going to tucker a goalie out by firing easily stoppable shots at him. You're making it easy. As the fans and the Thrashers' goaltenders have been saying for what seems like forever, crash the net. It pays in dividends.