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Stomach Turning

No, not a referece to the Thrashers-Oilers game (althougth that was not a pretty sight) but rather what I was doing all night after eating some bad seafood. While lying on the couch trying to ignore the rumblings in my midsection I decided this was not the time to watch the 4-1 loss to the Oilers (I didnt' watch it live because I had a game myself). Instead I pulled out my Red Wings boxed set of DVDs and watched the highlights of the 1997 and 1998 Detroit championship teams. (Yes, there was another hockey love prior to the Thrashers!)

Anyway, what does this have to do with today? Well for one thing I was reminded again just how many crucial playoff goals our own Slava Kozlov scored during those two playoff seasons. Those Detroit squads were absolutely loaded with offensive talent but in the 1997 playoffs he finish with 8 goals tied for 2nd on the team with Sergei Fedorov and just one behind team leader Brendan Shanahan. In 1998 Kozlov finished the playoffs thrid on the team in a three way tie with Yzerman and Lidstrom among Detroit goal scorers. Slava was among some elite company those two springs. Let's hope he still has some huge momentum shifting tallies left in that body of his this April.

I also noticed that Kozlov seemed to shoot a bit more at that point in his career and pass a bit less. I'd like to see him be a bit more selfish in terms of shooting for the Thrashers--especially on the power play. But then again when your center is Igor Larionov it makes sense to be the shooter. I have to say that despite my physical discomfort watching those highlights really got me jazzed about watching playoff hockey in Atlanta. That near miss last spring was just a taste of the energy and excitement that is the chase for the Stanley Cup.

Another observation I made is that approximately half of the highlight reel hits would be penalties in today's NHL. There is simply a ton of late hits and general after-the-whistle nastiness that isn't allowed. You see guys like Konstantinov, Aaron Ward, Martin Lapoite and Shanahan deliver some huge hits in these games. I was thinking about the current Thrashers lineup and we do have players like Exelby and Holik who can bring that to the table. But one problem is that new non-obstruction rules make a big hit more costly if you miss. Now we see guys being told to tone it down so they don't take themselves out of the play and give up a scoring chance against. While I am a big fan on the free flowing game of today, the decline of the big hit is truely a loss for fans.

Yet another thing is just how many playoff goals are scored off of broken plays. Yes, there were plenty of highlight reel tic-tac-toe passing plays, but there were also a large number of situations where guys simply put the puck on net and crashed the crease for rebound chances. This is something that Atlanta simply must improve on if they want to advance very far in the playoffs. We need more chaos around the net where the team can catch the other team's goalie out of position.

Lastly, I couldn't help but reflect on the lost career of Vladimir Konstantinov. The guy was simply a monster defensive defensemen his last year with Detroit (1996-97). I recall reading that he didn't even know what team they were playing on certain nights, he just wanted to go out there and bang bodies. He also had a nice passing touch that was important on that puck-possession team. The NHL really should add another trophy for the Best Defensive Defensemen (we already have the Selke for the best defensive forward) and perhaps they ought to name after Konstantinov in memory of this great player cut down far too early in his career.