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The Waddell Thrashers-What Has Changed?

You don't need to be a math major to know that the Thrashers 5-3 record under GM Don Waddell is better than their 0-6 record under Bob Hartley. In today's post I will point out which areas have improved and which areas have not since the coaching change took place.

Where has the team improved under Waddell? Offense and Power Play.
  • The team's offense has nearly doubled from a measly 1.5 per game to close 3 per game (I am excluding shoot-out goals). The team's offensive output the last 8 games under Waddell would rank 13th among all 30 NHL teams.
  • Perhaps even more impressive is the turn around of the Thrashers power play. Under Hartley it was an astonishingly bad 8% and under Waddell the man advantage has produced a goal 20% of the time which would rank 11th in the NHL.

What has not improved under Waddell? Defense, Penalty Killing and Goaltending.
  • The Thrashers Goals Against Average is down but even under Waddell the Thrashers rank dead last in terms of goals allowed. This must change for them to have any shot at the playoffs. Even on a successful road trip the team allowed 4 or more goals in half their games.
  • The same goes for the PK unit which actually slipped backwards (thanks to a 2-2 performance by the Ottawa Senators). The Waddell era PK ranks dead last in the league. This too must improve for the club to have a shot at the playoffs.
  • The team has seen their save percentage improve from absolutely brutal (29th) to merely terrible (26th).

Category Hartley Waddell Difference Rank Under BH Rank Under DW
Goals For per Game 1.50 2.89
+2.33 30th 13th
Goals Against per Game 4.50 3.75 -0.83 30th 30th
Shots For per Game 23.5 25.0 +1.5 30th 28th
Shots Against per Game 34.3 32.8 -1.6 30th 28th
PP% 08% 20% +10% 29th 11th
PK% 71% 67% -4% 30th 30th
SV% .869 .885 +.016 29th 26th

Why has the power play improved?
Ilya Kovalchuk has been red hot, but the re-emergence of Slava Kozlov has also been a key. Waddell has also benefited from having a healthy Marian Hossa out there as well. Although Hossa himself has not found the back of the net much the team's power play has been very productive when he is out there on the ice.

The other significant change is the way the power play ice time has been spread around. Under Waddell Tobias Enstrom is the only defenseman receiving any appreciable PP ice time. Zhitnik has been removed and McCarthy has been scratched lately. So the Thrashers PP unit is Enstrom plus Kovalchuk at the other point along with Kozlov, White and Hossa. Sterling and Perrin are seeing fewer minutes under Waddell, while Little, Holik and Haydar are seeing more.

What has changed with the penalty kill?
While the penalty kill has continued to struggle under Waddell it is not from a lack of trying new things. Brad Larsen and Jim Slater were the top two recipients of PK minutes under Bob Hartley. Those two guys were so brutal that readers who have a squeamish stomach might not want to read the next sentence. Under Hartley the team's top two PK forwards were on the ice for a PP goal against every 3.3 minutes of PK ice time-- their PK% was close to 50% or in other words EVERY OTHER PENALTY THEY ALLOWED A PP GOAL.

Don Waddell has basically removed both Slater and Larsen from the PK rotation. Hossa has become the team's #1 PK guy and White has jumped up to the #2, while Perrin and Dupis are #3 and #4. The problem is that most of these guys have seen their effectiveness slip with more PK ice time. The chief exception is Hossa who has been just outstanding in a PK role--if we could clone PK Hossa this team would kill off nearly every opposition power play. Other skill guys doing well in limited minutes are Bryan Little and Ilya Kovalchuk both of whom are perfect as PKers under both Hartley and Waddell. Perhaps their performance should lead to more PK minutes now and then.

What is going on with the defense?

Zhitnik was demoted to the 3rd pairing and Enstrom has become the #1 defenseman in total ice time. McCarthy struggled mightily and was scratched in favor of Mark Popovic who has been solid on the 3rd pairing.

At Even Strength the Klee-Exelby combo is receiving the most minutes and under Waddell. That pairing has allowed the fewest goals against once you factor in the ice time, so the coaching staff is putting out the right people at even strength and reducing the minutes of Havelid but especially Zhitnik.

On the PK Enstrom and Zhitnik have basically switched roles with Enstrom now #2 in PK ice time and Zhitnik now a distant 5th in PK minutes. Among the top four PK defensemen Enstrom and Havelid have been more effective at killing than Exelby and Klee under Waddell.