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Thrashers Rebound with Two Wins.

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The Thrashers have put together their first consecutive wins of the season. That streak will immediately be tested by a tough Buffalo team on Friday night.

What does this mean? On the one hand the Thrashers have righted the ship after two ugly losses in three games. The effort and intensity returned and they again looked like a competitive and entertaining team. On the other hand the Thrashers have only done what they must do. They beat two of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference.

The truth of the matter is that November is the easiest month on the schedule and if the Thrashers are going to make this an interesting season the absolutely must exist November with a winning record. If you divide the NHL into upper, middle and lower thirds (as I do) the Thrashers face these bottom rung clubs this month: FLA, NYI, CBJ, TOR, STL and these middle of the pack clubs: CAR, CAR, PHI, NSH and these upper tier teams: NJD, BUF, PIT, WSH.

Atlanta probably needs to take 4 out of 5 against the bottom clubs to make this a successful month. The next five games are HUGE. Compared to other months November is not as difficult but the next five games versus BUF, CAR, CAR, PHI and PIT will be a crucial test. The Thrashers need to find a way to get 6 points out of a possible 10 which would then put them in a good position to pick up even more points against the weaker teams in the later part of the month.

Here are the current Eastern Standings adjusted for games played.
(Points above or below games played)
+7 NYR
+7 MON
+6 BUF
+4 BOS
+3 CAR
+3 PIT
+3 NJD
+2 WAS
-----------PLAYOFFS
+1 OTT
+0 TOR
+0 TBL
-1 PHI
-2 FLA
-3 ATL
-4 NYI

Bruce Levenson: "It's way too early. I think we're three games out of first place,"
Actually we would need to win six more in a row to get into first place in the division.

Who is doing what? The last two home game I got out my handy yellow note pad and tried to track every single time the Thrashers possessed the puck. I noted who made bad passes, who failed to catch good passes, who cleared the defensive zone, who failed to clear the defensive zone, who attempted shots and so forth. I tried this a few times last season.

It requires a lot of concentration to track every pass made during a game--but it also helps you get away from personal biases. Like anyone, I have players that I like and those I don't like so much. But when I track passes I just write down what happens regardless of my feeling for the players.

So what did this exercise teach me?
Exelby is making many fewer turnovers than last season. When I tracked puck possession last year I was just stunned by how often Exelby would dump the puck into the neutral zone or fail to make an outlet pass. The good news is that he has largely stopped dumping the puck out to center--because now he passes almost exclusively to Hainsey who then makes a good outlet pass. I'd say in the Florida game 85% of Exelby's passes went to his D partner.

In the Florida game the Williams-Christensen combo were just brutal in the first period. When those two were out on the ice, the puck stayed in the Atlanta zone most of the time and when they did clear their defensive zone they quickly lost possession of the puck. Their puck possession improved in the 2nd and 3rd periods.

Jason Williams in particular was pretty much a black hole in the Florida game, he either couldn't catch a pass, couldn't make a pass, lost control of the puck or was checked off the puck. It was a pretty amazing display of badness out there. Fortunately he was significantly better in the Islanders game, but he still losses possession of the puck far too often for a guy who is supposed to have top six forward talent.

Kovalchuk is also a big source of turnovers. He tries some high risk passes and he also just makes some dumb decisions out there at times--he tries drop passes when everyone on the ice is looking for him to shoot the puck.

The Kozlov-White-Little consistently makes good passes and good decisions out there. They pass efficiently and they stay in their lanes opening up the offense. When they do dump the puck into the offensive zone they are able to jump into the corners and win the puck back much of the time. The question in my mind as I was tracking puck possession was this: Why is the Kovalchuk line getting 80% of the PP time when the Kozlov-While-Little line is playing some great hockey right now? They ought to split those power plays 50-50 and send out the 2nd line halfway through.

I'm increasingly of the opinion that Colby Armstrong may be the most underrated player on the Atlanta Thrashers. When he is on the ice good things happen--regardless of who he plays with. Last time I ran the numbers he was the most effective PK forward. At ES his season total Corsi number blows away any other forward on the team.

Schneider Out and Valabik In
So Schneider get dinged up in practice and Valabik was called for tonight's game. I'm not sure when Valabik arrived but he looked brutal. In played just 9 of the 60 minutes of the game and was on for 2 goals against. He was just standing there by the net doing his best Andy-Sutton-as-a-pillar-of-salt impression on the first two Islander goals and then he took a unnecessary penalty that gave the Islanders another opportunity to add to their total. The Thrashers got back into the game in the 3rd and Boris played just 2 minutes in the final 20.

I'm hoping he was just nervous or arrived at the last minute and will look better the next game (Schneider is expected to miss three according to the team). As I recall he looked pretty rough in his first NHL game last year and then seemed to settle down and relax after that. I do worry about how he will look matched up against Buffalo's speedy forwards--if he just stands around it could be quite ugly.

Your Corsi Numbers for the Florida Game
(Net shots fired while at even strength while that particular players was out on the ice--were you out chancing the opposition or being out chanced?)

Team
+9 Pavelec -
The Thrashers were really out played the Islanders at even strength last night.

Defense
Havelid +4
Enstrom +9

Hainsey +8
Exelby -3

Oystrick -2
Valabik +1

Forwards
Kozlov -1
White -1
Little 0

Kovalchuk
+4
Christensen +1
Williams +2

Armstrong +8
Reasoner +6
Thorburn +6

Perrin
+1
Slater +2
Boulton 0