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What is Wrong with this Team? Pt 1

Like most Thrasher fans I left the Islanders game amazed that the team frittered away another opportunity to put away an opponent. A missed penalty shot and more wasted power plays left the door open and the Islanders to their credit took advantage. I swear that if I watch the Thrashers stand around on yet another 5-on-3 power play I'm going to go all Greek tragedy on their ass and tear my eyes out of my skull.

OK, now that I have my emotional reaction out of the way, I think it is time for some analysis here at Thrashers Talons. Our question for today: What is right and what is wrong with this team?

At the top of the list of things that are right with this team is their place in the standings. First place in the division is great but in some ways it masks the flaws in this club. The Thrashers need to get serious about their problems and they shouldn't just fall back on touting their divisional led. When I watch this team I can't help but think, "how do we stay in first place?" I fail to see the killer instinct that I usually associate with a top team. I see a team that plays great hockey in stretches but rarely turns in a complete effort over 60 minutes. I see pieces of a great team but that is all at this point.

From a statistical point of view I am very concerned because great teams outscore their opposition and this teams is basically even when you look at their goals for and goals in 2006-07. Anaheim, Nashville and Buffalo have all outscored their opposition by over 40 goals at this point in the season and we are basically even--not a good sign.

If you look at the long history of the NHL, a team's ratio of offense and defense is a very accurate predictor of where they will finish in the standings. Right now using points the Thrashers rank 3rd out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference, but if you look at the ratio of offense to defense the team is just 9th in the East. History says that something has to give here. Either this club is going to take a tumble in the standing or we are due of an offensive outburst which will bring the standings and goal differential back into harmony.

Let's continue to break down the Thrashers. At the moment the team ranks 7th (out of 30 teams) in total points. If you look goal differential the team is a lousy 18th out of 30. If you remove shootout goals from the goal differential we slip even further to 20th in the NHL.

Breaking Down the Offense and Defense

On offense the team is generating a good number of shots (rank 12 out of 30 teams) and they are converting those shots into goals at a better than average clip (their Shooting % ranks 11th) to give them an offensive rank that is around the middle of the league in terms of goal scored per game (14th). But with their offensive talent their goal production should be higher in my opinion--they keep wasting the top center spot on Kapanen which is a sub-optimal way to deploy the talent.

It is on the defensive side of things that we see some strange discrepancies jump out. The goal tending has produced a Save % that is right around the league average, Atlanta ranks 14th out of 30 teams. The goaltending hasn't been outstanding nor has it been terrible, just average (a welcome change from last year). However, if you look at shots on goal against we see that the team ranks a lowly 23rd in the league. The team is getting average goaltending but a below average performance from the skaters in front of the goaltenders and the end result is the Thrasher rank just 18th in Goals Against Average.

Special Teams

So what is the source of our goal differential problems? Well if you look at just even strength situations the Thrashers rank 8th out of the 30 teams. This means that the team is rather effective at even strength--which is when roughly 75% of the game is played.

However, when you look at special teams, matters get ugly, as the Thrashers rank just 26th in special teams goal differential. To put it in more concrete terms the Thrashers PP and PK units have been outscored by the opposition by 13 goals so far this season--that is a terrible number for a playoff team.

The worst part is that if you look at power play opportunities the Thrashers rank 9th--so we are getting many PP chances and yet we give the opposition relatively few PP opportunities against us--the team ranks 11th in terms of fewest times shorthanded this season. Again the team is doing things well at even strength, they are drawing penalties and not taking too many of their own. However, the wheels come off when it comes time to execute. Atlanta ranks just 19th in PP goals per game and 21st in PP %. On the other side, the team is a terrible 24th in SH Goals against per game and 26th in the league in PK%.

There is no way to put a happy face on those numbers. Those are numbers you would expect to see on a bad team that is missing the playoffs not a team which hopes to make some noise in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Both the players and coaches ought to be embarrassed by those numbers. The coaching staff has to take some of the blame for failing to find a way to make this power play more effective--especially in 5-on-3 situations. With a two-man advantage you can design plays and move the puck around a will.

Recently DW was quoted at that he was interested in fixing the team's PK unit and after seeing those numbers I can understand why that would be an area of concern.

In my next post I'll take a look at the goaltending and there are a few surprises (at least to me) in the numbers.