The schedule is out and I've had some time to look at it. The Thrashers face three really tough periods in my opinion.
Everyone keeps talking about the team starting off with a home game and playing 5 on the road. The first few games don't scare me so much because St. Louis and Ottawa are beatable teams and hopefully the home opener versus Tampa is a win. I wouldn't be shocked to see the team get off to a 2-1 or even 3-0 start. However, from October 16th-Oct 29th the Thrashers play six games in a row against teams that finished last year with a positive Goal Differential (NJD, BUF, MON, WSH, SJS, WSH). That's a tough patch and I would be surprised if they fell below .500 before hitting a nice easy stretch at home in November.
Then comes the Thrashers make or break month from Dec 5th to Jan 5th were they play basically every other night and 14 of 17 of those are on the road. Some of the those teams are soft opponents, but the road trip will take its toll on everyone's energy level. If the Thrashers can simply stay .500 during this stretch I like their chances of making the post-season. Avoiding injuries during this stretch will also be huge. If Lehtonen or Kovalchuk are out during this road trip it could be a season killer.
It will be important for the Thrashers to take advantage of weak months in November and January, Februrary and early March and build a point cushion. If the team is in a dog fight for the playoffs the schedule takes a wicked turn down the homestretch. From March 20th forward the Thrashers play (PHI, PHI, BOS, TOR, CAR, CAR, TOR, WSH, PIT, NJD, WSH, PIT). That is a run of 10 teams that made the 2009 playoffs plus two games versus the physical Leafs. On the other hand, if some of those clubs have clinched their playoff position, they might not play with the same energy as they would have earlier in the year. Very hard to know in advance.
Friend of the blogger The Forechecker has his annual schedule analysis up at On the Forecheck. The Thrashers play 15 back to back games which is exactly average for the NHL next season. The team also fewer miles than last year and comes in below the league average. Every team faces some schedule adversity. Team that qualify for the post-season work through that adversity.