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The Thrashers after 5 Games

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It is probably too early in the season to put a lot of weight into any stats. Anything can happen in a five day period. I recall the mid-1980s when the Toronto Maple Leafs would get off to a hot start in the old NHL Norris Division causing dreams of respectability for many fans on the shores of Lake Ontario only to see them come crashing back down to Earth and miss the playoffs again.

Likewise the Thrashers still have plenty of time to disappoint, but right the early returns are solid. The team is just one point away the top eight (playoff qualifying position) after playing 4 rather tough opponents. Personally I expect Washington, Minnesota, New Jersey and Buffalo to all compete for their respective division titles--earning 4 points against those 4 teams is respectable.

I think for me the most impressive thing is the effort level and the shot production. Last year the team would go through entire periods and entire games where they simply failed to compete and were badly out shot. The Thrashers are still getting out shot, but at least they are now getting their own chances against the opposition net minder.

Other than the poor third period against Florida, the effort level has been very good in my opinion. Is this harbinger for the entire season or just a "new coach" effect that will wear off after a while? Only time will tell.

Let's take a stroll through the various statistical rankings to see where the team is showing improvement. For each item below we can see where the Thrashers rank in the 30 team NHL.

NHL Standings
This Season: 16th (tie)
Last season: 27th
Early on the Thrashers are in the middle of the pack in the standing--certainly better than 0-6 start last year.

Shots For Per Game
This Season: 9th
Last Season: 30th
Major improvements in terms of generating scoring opportunities. Up from dead last to the top 1/3 of the NHL right now.

Goals Scored Per Game
This Season: 23rd (tie)
Last Season: 22nd (tie)
Unfortunately while shots are up sharply, goals scoring remain hard to come by so far. The offensive rank is about where it was last season.

Shots Against Per Game
This Season: 29th
Last Season: 30th
So far no big change in this department. The defensemen are much more mobile this year but with John Anderson's uptempo system the team is going to give up a fair number of shots. If the team gets great goaltending they can still improve on the defensive side of things.

Goals Allowed Per Game
This Season: 12th (tie)
Last Season: 29th (tie)
In fact when we look at GAA we see a MAJOR improvement over last year. Will this improvement hold? Probably not since Hedberg has yet to start and Kari has only allowed one bad goal so far this season (OT in Florida)

Goal Differential (GFA-GAA)
This Season: 18th (tie)
Last Season: 30th
This is a REALLY important stat--probably the single most important one in this post. Goal Differential is a great predictor of the where a team will rank in the standings. It is VERY early, but the Thrashers are showing huge improvement in Goal Differential due to great goaltending basically. Now I expect the GAA to deteriorate some but I also expect the offense to perform a bit better. Hopefully those two changes wash each other out and the Goal Differential number stays up there in the middle of the NHL.

Stopping Shots (SV%)
This Season: 9th
Last Season: 18th
Lehtonen has been very sharp. This explains the bulk of the improvement in the standings so far. The Lehtonen haters are all fairly quit right now.

Converting Shots (ST%)
This Season: 22nd
Last Season: 10th (tie)
The offense is creating more shots but converting fewer of them. Part of that is losing Marian Hossa and part of that is plain bad luck. It seems to me that Atlanta has hit a lot of iron in these first five games and they are due a few fortunate bounces at some point.

Earning Power Plays
This Season: 4th
Last Season: 28th
Atlanta is doing great at getting Power Plays compared to the rest of the league. This is probably due to better team speed and a more aggressive offensive system.

Power Play Percentage
This Season: 27th
Last Season: 23rd
The bad news is that the PP unit hasn't produced much at all. They're getting chances but just not finishing them...yet.

Taking Penalties
This Season: 19th
Last Season: 15th (tie)

Penalty Kill Percentage

This Season: 17th
Last Season: 27th
The team is showing major improvement so far on the PK unit. Still not top half in the NHL but they are no longer bottom of the NHL bad.

Attendance (by tickets distributed)
This Season: 30th
Last Season: 22nd
Attendance (by percent of capacity)
This Season: 30th
Last Season: 21st
Big tumble from last season when they moved tickets following the first ever playoff appearance and the upcoming NHL All-Star Game.

Summary: The team looks better, but probably is not playoff quality. The offense is creating more pressure but not converting enough chances so far. The defense is still allowing a lot of shots but the goaltending has been great so far.