| ||vs.|| |
| San Jose Sharks || Atlanta Thrashers |
680 the Fan
Fear the Fin
Okay forget the debacle that was Thursday night. Third jerseys were worn - should be pretty easy to pretend that wasn't the Thrashers that participated in that slop trying to pass itself off as an NHL contest to decide a divisional lead. Forget about any 190-foot "shots", forget about slew foot, forget about a snuffed out comeback attempt.
You with me? Good. 'Cause tonight's a whole different puckdrop.
The San Jose Sharks are invading Philips, with everyone's favorite former Thrasher in tow. The Sharks currently sit second in a shockingly competitive Pacific Division. A look at their roster gives one a sinking feeling and a passing thought of imminent death. Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle & a President's Trophy tend to have that effect. But this cloud comes with a pretty substantial silver lining. A few, actually.
Might as well jump.
The Sharks are trying too work seven new players into their system, and anyone that followed the 2008-2009 Thrashers knows what an uphill battle that can be. Productive center Joe Pavelski is out indefinitely with a foot injury. They've really struggled to score the first goal in a majority of their games. Yet they've managed to put up 11 points and avoid digging too deep a hole early in the season. They walked in to MSG, shrugged off an early 2 goal deficit, and spanked the Rangers to the tune of 7-3. Then they turned right around three days later and got pantsed by Tampa Bay, losing by a 3 goal margin. I'm gonna go ahead and label this team "a little mercurial", but one gets the sense that once the bugs get worked out and every one gets on the same page, this might be an even slightly scarier team than last years' Sharks (if only offensively).
What do the Thrashers have to do to win the game?
Well, getting on the board first would help, but isn't the only solution. For Atlanta to win tonight, we need to see the team we saw in New Jersey and Buffalo - the team that skated hard, won battles, and just plain out-fought their opponents. These may sound like clichés, but there's a reason: because they work. For the first time in a little while, talent isn't the issue--Atlanta's got more than enough talent on this roster to get it done against anyone in the NHL. Both teams are coming off disturbing losses, and have plenty of motivation to come out swinging. It's going to be hard work and attention to detail that beats the Sharks.
Tim's Take: We're seeing something a little different with this year's Atlanta Thrashers team. We're used to Kovalchuk being one of the most prolific goal-scorers in the NHL, but otherwise, the Thrashers are not a team that routinely performs at the top of statistical measurements. This year is a little different. Take a look at some of our current rankings:
- Individuals: Kovalchuk, T-1st goals, Hedberg 2nd Save %, Hedberg 4th GAA
- Team: Powerplay % T-1st, Penalty Kill % 2nd, Goals/Game 5th, Goals Allowed/Game 8th, Faceoff % 8th, Points % 10th
Even the most optimistic Thrashers fan wouldn't have predicted that sort of statistical dominance before the season. A 2nd-ranked penalty kill? I would have been happy with 15th. These are all very positive signs... except for one: 5-on-5 goals forced/goals allowed at 0.88 for 19th. Typically this stat is the best predictor of where a team will finish. Exceptionally good special teams - like the Thrashers have shown so far - can break the trend.
With that, here's your Three Questions of the Game:
- Can Johan Hedberg turn in a top-notch performance? The man they call Moose is usually a dependable backup, but he's been extremely good so far this year. If he can stay above a 0.900 save % tonight, the Thrashers will have a good shot at winning the game.
- Can Schubert be better? I'm a little surprised that Anssi Salmela took Mark Popovic's spot for tonight's game. I though Christoph Schubert looked absolutely terrible in Thursday's game against the Washington Capitals. He coughed the puck up several times and seemed to be standing in the crease for several of Washington's goals. He was on the ice for 3 of Washington's goals... though not the 180 footer. I thought he played well in his first game with the Thrashers, so hopefully tonight he shows some improvement. Usually your 3rd pairing D-men aren't going to win games for your team, but they can certainly lose games for you.
- Can the Thrashers be better at even-strength? I am extremely apprehensive of the Little-White-Russian line. I've done some analysis--and I believe The Falconer has as well--showing that they are very, very poor at even-strength. All those great things you remember about those guys? Those were powerplay moments. Trust me. Mad Max Afinogenov looked great with Ilya Kovalchuk and Nik Antropov, but if that means putting Little-White-Russian back together, color me concerned. My suggestion? Let our second line be Kozlov-Peverley-Armstrong and play Todd White and Bryan Little with Evander Kane. While our 3rd line has been very productive, Kozlov has played with Peverley and Armstrong before with great effect. I think those two lines are perhaps balanced a little better than our current set. If these lines stick for awhile, expect more analysis from myself about why I think it's such a terrible idea.
- Fire out the gates--The team is at home for the second time in a row, and being a Saturday game, the crowd should be nice and loud to cheer the team on. I'm hoping this carries over to the players and the losing streak ends at two games.
- Respect the opponents--This is a very talented and equally deep SJ Sharks team that has one of the best top lines in the whole league. Room cannot be given to let them make plays, and it's important to also keep out of the box. Stupid penalties will get this top line out who is also high up in terms of PP% - 27.3% for 7th.
- Production from the second line--Every team knows, Kovalchuk has to be contained. That's fine, he's used to it, the team expects it, he has the skill, ability, will, you name it, to overcome those obstacles. With the final line change being granted since the Thrashers are at home, I expect some good looks from him and even a goal. However, the team so far has seemed to rely on Ilya to score. The Little-White-Russian line needs to step it up and mix up the Sharks defense. Force them to worry about more than the Russian Roulette line.
- Lastly a win--The Sharks are playing decent hockey compared to the dominance they had last year during the regular season. This is a good opportunity to take advantage of that before they begin to put it all together (they will soon, there's too much talent on their squad).