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Game 9: Putting the Power back into Power Play

The Atlanta Thrashers put on one of the more impressive power play performances I've ever seen scoring 5 power plays goals in a 6-3 last night. The Panthers outscored the Atlanta 2-1 at even strength but that simply didn't matter as the Thrashers won the battle of the special teams 5-0.

This is the same Panthers PK unit that had frustrated the Thrashers in Atlanta just a few days earlier making them look ineffective. What was the difference? Well, for one thing the Florida is very aggressive in terms of attacking the puck while they are killing. They are gambling that the puck carrier will turn over the puck or make a poor pass. Often it works, but just like the trap in basketball you can break it with effective passing and that was the key last night.

I've commented before that when teams overload (usually on Kovalchuk's side) it is critical that the Thrashers move the puck quickly to the other side and get a scoring opportunity. Last night the Panthers were trying to pressure the puck along the boards and Atlanta was able to swing it across for Kovalchuk one-timers for goals. One time it was McCarthy making the pass and the other time it was Kozlov. A similar thing happened down low on Hossa's goal where Mellanby made a terrific pass across the goalmouth to a wide-open Marian Hossa who buried it.

Anyone remember this team blowing a five-goal lead to Pittsburgh last year? Doesn't seem to likely this year with Lehtonen in the net and a stronger commitment to defense by both the forwards and blueliners. Having solid goaltending is so huge--just ask Panthers fans!

Kari Lehtonen at one point tried to make a kick save/pass to his defensemen. It didn't work as planned, but I can't remember the last time I even saw a goaltender attempt this. Most of them just worry about covering the puck or putting the rebound in a safe area of the ice. My guess is few net minders would even try something like a combo kick save/pass move.

I've mentioned before that I have doubts J.P. Vigier as a NHL player in the new version of the game, but a tip of the hat to JPVJ for his nice wrap around play which looked like it just might work.

Parade of Heroes
ATL GF 1: Kovalchuk one-time on a good pass from McCarthy mentioned above.
ATL GF 2: Hossa goal on sweet Mellanby pass across the crease.
ATL GF 3: Kovalchuk slap shot from the high slot where he picked the top corner.
ATL GF 4: Mellanby exists the penalty box and collects blind clear up the boards for a breakaway that Auld probably shouldn't have allowed.
ATL GF 5: Kovalchuk completes the hat off a nice set up by Kozlov
ATL GF 6: Rucchin corrals a loose puck, after first dishing to Kovalchuk whose shot was saved producing the rebound opportunity.

List of Shame
ATL GA 1: Slater failed to clear the puck up the left boards, De Vries fronts Florida player who redirects shot past Lehtonen.
ATL GA 2: Not sure who really should take the blame here. Sutton pinched all the way towards the Florida net but Atlanta didn't get the puck in deep leading to an odd man rush for the Panthers. Hossa hustled back to fill one of the D spots but that still left it a 3-on-2 for FLA. The high man scored with Kozlov trailing behind him. I guess I'd put this one Sutton for a costly pinch.
ATL GA 3: De Vries was outnumbered down low because Jokinen blew past a dead-in-the-water Jon Sim creating an odd man advantage at the net for Florida.