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Blue in Atlanta?

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The month of November came to a close with the Atlanta Thrashers losing to the St. Louis Blues 4-2. In some respects the contest mirrored the Thrashers performance; some exciting stretches, but ultimately not enough to win.

The Blues game was generally fun to watch. Kovalchuk has been playing with more intensity since the Columbus match. Exelby has played better the last two games. Pavelec made some fine saves. On the Power Play I was excited to see the Thrashers try putting the Kozlov line out there with Kovalchuk and Hainsey on the points--they were very dangerous and did everything but score a goal. Exelby did another Ron Burgundy Keys to the Game and intermission interview--I appreciate his efforts to entertain the fans. But at the end of the match the Blues skates off winners. Close but no cigar once again for the Thrashers.

I know some fans are in a real panic mode at this point. I'm not one of them. I was angry this summer when the team did not bring in any impact players. I was angry months ago when I realize that we were not likely to see a playoff caliber team take the ice. I was angry when I heard the organization try and sell this as a competitive team. I was angry at the Meet the GM event before the season.

I'm not longer angry. The club is what it is. A collection of interesting young players and some aging veterans. I'm not expecting any playoffs this year. I just want to watch a hungry team that works hard and keeps it close. I want some reason to think that the Thrashers could be a playoff team in 2010.

My prediction for this club was middle to high 80s in terms of standing points and the playoffs usually require mid 90s to qualify. There simply isn't enough talent on this team to make the playoffs. The Thrashers are short a couple of top six forwards and a replacement for Exelby on the blueline.

The bad news is that the Thrashers just missed their big chance to make things interesting in the standings. November was the weakest month of the season. They needed to rack up the points. Instead beatable teams like Columbus, St. Louis, Washington and Nashville were able to come out on top. Now the Thrashers sit just one point out of 30th place at the conclusion of their weakest month on the schedule.

The good news is that the team is getting younger and they are playing the young guys. Some of the younger players have taken BIG steps forward. Bryan Little showed strong defense last year but little offensively flair. This year's Bryan Little is scoring. Last year Nathan Oystrick came to NHL Camp in poor condition and he looked brutal in pre-season action and was sent back to the AHL. This year Oystrick came in pro condition and won the last defense job over Boris Valabik. He bounced back after a costly mistake in his first game has played with increased confidence and lately increased scoring. To be perfectly honest I thought the clock had run out on his NHL potential last year, but he is proving me wrong. Ondrej Pavalec is another guy who looks NHL ready.

Not everything is sunshine and roses on the development front. The returns on the Hossa trade are still very much up in the air. Colby Armstrong has been as advertised with very solid defensive play, hard hitting and some nice goals. On the other hand Erik Christensen is headed closer and closer toward "Bustville" and Angelo Esposito isn't really scoring as much as he should in the Q. Daulton Leveille is still years away from contributing at the NHL level.

I assume the Thrashers will be sellers at the tread deadline time and they must continue to get younger and add to their talent base. They must keep adding players who will core individuals in a playoff team in 2010. 2011 and 2012. Presumably Schneider, Jason Williams, Exelby and perhaps one of the Lehtonen/Pavelec duo could net the Thrashers a good collection of prospects and draft picks which could add to the talent base.

Lastly, I will say I'm very satisfied with Coach Anderson's performance. This team has had a shot to win points in the 3rd period of most of their games. It seems to me that the players play hard for this coach. They've turned in just 4 terrible efforts in 23 games--a vast improvement over last season. I generally like the systems he has used. The forechecking is fun to watch. Personally I favored the coaching candidates who ended up San Jose and Florida. Anderson has surpassed my expectations.