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Thrashers Topple Capitals

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What a fun start to the season! The NHL season is a long and winding road, but this night went right for the Thrashers. I had a ton of thoughts watching this game so I"ll just toss them out quick hit style.

Momentum is such a tricky thing, the Thrashers appeared to be in trouble after Bogosian took a penalty in his first NHL shift and the Caps looked like they had a goal only to have it wiped out by a high stick call. Then Hainsey responds by getting the first official goal and the Thrashers are off and running. The "new guys" all seemed to contribute, other than perhaps Jason Williams whom I hardly noticed.

Our power play looks MUCH better with the addition of Hainsey and Schnedier. Neither of these guys are afraid to fire the puck from the blueline. Opposing teams have to respect the blueline shot which will eventually open up more ice for Kovalchuk down low. I LOVED the fact that when the Thrashers won the first PP face off (from Ovechkin no less) the puck came to Schneider who just unleashed a one timer (which was blocked). Last year's PP unit would have made five passes and then turned the puck over. This year the PP just fires away--what an improvement.

Kozlov looked much better. He created the 2nd Little goal by skating across the blueline--and a couple of flashy puck handling moves attracted all three defenders to him and he then dished off a perfect pass to a wide open Little who fired and scored.

Another guy who was just sensational in my opinion was Eric Perrin. It seemed to me that he made something happen EVERY shift he was out there. Little received the 1st star for his 3 point night but it was a real ommission ignore Perrin's terrific play out there.

Bogosian got tagged for two penalties and a Brashear hunted the rookie down in the final two minutes of the game. I'm sure he was the happiest person in the building when the Capitals apparent goal was waived off.

Bogosian wasn't the only D to have a rough night. Enstrom fell asleep on Green's PP goal on the back door. Exelby lost his stick and the Capitals converted on the PP again.

There are many areas for improvement. The Thrashers are not going to have too many nights when the opposition goalie's Save Percentage is below .800 so the team will need to limit the chances against. Probably the most disturbing of the game was allowing 40+ shots on goal. That can't continue night after night if this team hopes to win.

As someone who plays defense in my local rec hockey leagues I probably watch the D more than most fans do. I can't believe how much more mobile our D corps is now and how much better their passing is. Schneider and Hainsey both jumped into the offensive zone play and made outstanding tape to tape outlet passes that allowed the forwards to race up the ice without making awkward adjustments to catch the puck.

Back when I suggested the Thrashers add Schneider to the roster I made the claim that he would be the best defenseman to wear a Thrashers uniform in team history. He had a couple of subtle plays that confirmed that (in my opinion). He made a heady move on a 1st period PP where it looked like the Capitals were about to recover and clear the puck. Instead he jumps in straight ahead beats the Capital to the puck and slides it fluidly back to Hainsey who then makes a solid play to keep the PP alive. At another point he slides down the left wall on the PP and calls for the puck from a Thrashers forward who is coming under pressure. Schneider receives the puck cleanly and immediately makes a quality pass to keep the flow going. Other than Enstrom last season, the Thrashers have been missing this sort of PP QB for their entire franchise history.

Some of the things that Coach Anderson discussed this summer with the bloggers showed up in the first contest. Anderson talked about the forwards putting pressure on down low and sending the defenseman to the net--which is exactly how Hainsey scored the first goal of the game.

Another thing Coach Anderson talked about was changing the attitude. I don't want to get overly excited about a single game, but I was pleased to see the Thrashers kept playing hard after Washington tied the game 4-4. We have seen many Thrashers teams that seemed to become stunned and slip into a defensive shell after giving up two goals on a single penalty call.

The players made multiple mistakes out there, but the energy level was great. The cameras caught Colby Armstrong on the bench after he scored his first of the season and he did some kind of shotgun thing with arms and was clearly enthused about his goal and the game.

The crowd was spirited and there were MANY more people there than I expected given the availability of tickets. Technically a sell out but there some rather patchy sections in the upper deck. Given how many tickets were available the morning of the game I'm thinking there were a significant number of giveaways for this one.

The Marketing/Ticket Sales Departments have to be doing hand stands. Finally the team puts on an entertaining performance in front of a large crowd. On opening night the hockey product was good--it was the sort of spirited contest that will make people want to come back again. Of course, the team has to keep playing like that into the future.

Two of the best plays of the entire game were passes. Kozlov's phenomenal pass for Little's goal and Kovalchuk's pass across the low slot for the final goal of the contest by White. As Gretzky learned sometimes an assist is prettier than a goal.

Kari Lehtonen had a stretch where he started throwing himself at the puck instead of just letting it hit him and I thought "oh no, he's about to fall apart" but he regained his composure and made some quality saves to get the win.

It was far from a perfect game, but it was a win (and there were few of those last season). The energy level was good, the PP was encouraging and the hockey product was fun to watch. The $1,000,000 question is can they keep doing this?

Corsi Box Score: Shots Attempted, Thrashers minus Opposition Shots
(
while each player was on the ice at even strength excluding EN situations)

Team/Goal
-9 Lehtonen

Defense: all three D pairings were outshot to some degree, Schneider had the worst numbers at even strength. Not sure this one tells us that much.

-2 Havelid
-2 Enstrom

-7 Schneider
-3 Bogosian

-3 Hainsey
-3 Exelby

Forwards: The top three lines were pretty even in net shots attempted, but the 4th line was really in trouble in terms of getting out shot. Almost the entire Capitals ES shot advantage was piled up when the Greek God line was out there.

+2 Kovalchuk
+4 White
+2 Williams

+1 Kozlov
-1 Christensen
-1 Little

+1 Armstrong
-1 Reasoner
-1 Perrin

-8 Slater
-12 Thorburn
-10 Boulton