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Does This Team Have the Will to Win?

Don Waddell spoke to season ticket holders before the home game against Carolina for the first time since training camp (he used to do this about once a month when was doing the just the GM job). I'm not going to post everything he said since but I did ask two questions and I'll post his responses to those.

1st Question: I assume that Kovalchuk is a lock to make the All-Star Game roster, but what about Hossa? Do you expect him to be playing here? I know that in past years they have tended to favor home town guys when filling out the roster?

DW response: I would be very disappointed if Hossa were not put on the roster. Folks around the league recognize that he is a very special player even if he stats are not as impressive as last year. With Hossa you have to look at the total package, he does other things that really help his team win. His defense is great and he backchecks harder than most offensive players. He is our best penalty killer.

2nd Question: The penalty kill has gotten better each month of the season, why is that?

DW: We made some changes. Different players and a more aggressive strategy. I believe that if you give talented players on the other team time and space they will score. So we try to pressure them to force the issue. We've had a really terrific stretch there for a while where we gave up only a couple of power play goals against over several weeks, then we didn't so well up in Boston allowing three.

There were a LOT of questions asked about our defense and DW said it would his top priority where he to make a change in the roster via a trade, but he noted that just one defenseman has been traded so far this season and it was former Thrasher Shane Hnidy (i.e. no stud defensemen have been moved so far).

The other question that I found interesting was when someone asked what does "associate coach" mean in reference to the recent announcement that Brad McCrimmon has been given that title. DW said that it was party recognition for what McCrimmon has already been doing. "As coach and GM I really need someone I can rely on and Brad really stepped up to fill that role." Another point he made is that the title Associate makes it clear to the players who is the #2 coach when DW is not available--Brad is the guy to go to.

Other notes: Boris Valabik had been playing well in Chicago but is injured again. DW still expects that Hossa will resign, talks have been steady with no deal breakers on either side. Now that football season is over all the TV stations sent crews up to the practice facility. Someone suggested that they offer another jersey exchange program--only this time you could trade in your Falcons jerseys for Thrasher jerseys--which generated quite a few chuckles.

One last thing that was discussed was the disparity in the shots. The team is out shot on a regular basis. DW said that they look at shots inside a half circle arc in front of the goalies (where the arc passes through the face-off dots on the right and left sides of the net). He concluded his answer by saying that what matters most is not the number of shots but which team makes the fewest mistakes--which is a natural segue into talking about the Carolina game.

The home and home series with Carolina (and the home and home with Boston) were all about mistakes and a lack of mental toughness in this team. The Thrashers took on a flailing Bruins club--beat them up one night and took a 2-0 lead in the second game but lacked the killer instinct to finish them off and climb the standings.

The Carolina home-and-home was the same way. They had a lead up there, but Holik took a dumb penalty (that did nothing to prevent a scoring chance) and Carolina received a point Atlanta should have denied them. Then in the second game it was like a replay of the Boston game. They took a 2-0 lead on a minor league goaltender who had just been called up and then failed to finish it off. Costly penalties were the story again as Lehtonen took one that resulted in a goal, Klee got a double minor which really hurt and Holik virtually gave Carolina a win by clearing the puck over the glass (which put the Thrashers two men down with two of their PK regulars in the box).

January is the toughest month on the Thrashers schedule if you look at the opponent's winning percentage and every possible point should be precious to this team. You can't give away points with a lack of focus and expect to make the playoffs. You can't let struggling teams up off the mat. The Thrashers play some very good teams this month and it is critical they beat the slumping ones when they have the chance.

Let's face some facts everybody want to win. Each night two teams square off it is a battle between 20 players who want to win versus another 20 players who want to win. The real question is which group has the WILL to win.

Having the will to will to win means playing hard and playing with focus even when you have a lead. Having the will to win is about making smart defensive plays at the expense of possible scoring chances. The will to win means you move your feet to keep yourself in good defensive position so you don't have to take a penalty after a guy skates around you.

This year Ilya Kovalchuk has made the transition from a player that want to SCORE to a player that wants to WIN in my opinion. The question is what about the rest of this roster? I'd have to say that lately the evidence suggests that this is a team that works just hard enough to be respectable but not hard enough to become a winning team. They will only go as far as their will extends.