The Thrashers lost a de facto playoff game for 8th spot in the East last night by a score of 4-0. There is plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth on the message boards. The odds are very much against Atlanta sneaking into the post-season at this point. For the Thrashers to get in Philadelphia, Montreal or Boston has to fall apart in the final 9-10 games and the Thrashers have to play well. Philly appears to be really struggling, but they have a 4 point lead on Atlanta this point, so it would require the Flyers to fall to 2-7-1 and the Thrashers would need to go 5-4 against some very good teams.
So what happened last night? After turning in a very complete performance on Saturday against the Flyers, the Thrashers made lots of small mistakes and a patient Bruins team capitalized on them. The Bruins were good but not great, the Thrashers were able to skate through the neutral zone with the puck more often than I expected. Better execution by Atlanta and they might have fared much differently. The Thrashers had the control of the puck in the offensive zone a fair amount--but they threw away far too many offensive possessions.
First let's review the mistakes on the Atlanta Goals Against:
- The first goal is all Bogosian in my view. Bogosian had the puck in the D zone and failed to complete an outlet pass creating an icing. Zach had to stay on for the faceoff. The Bruins win the puck and dump it around behind the boards, Bogosian hits Krejci into the end boards--but then he just stands still and Krejci beats him to the goal crease and taps in a pass to give the Bruins the all important lead.
- The second goal was a case of bad reads or mis-communication. Deep in their own end the Antropov wins a faceoff. Under pressure Enstrom rims the puck up the near boards towards Bergfors. But Krejci reads the rim up the boards and jumps in steals the puck and whips a quick pass to Lucic who is open in the high slot area and scores. Kubina and Hedberg both looked startled by the sudden turnover. Enstrom needed an outlet but both Bergfors or Antropov were too far away creating the long outlet--and creating the opportunity for the steal. I'm not sure which deserves the blame but someone failed to move properly on that breakout.
- Oduya makes a small mistake when he fails to connect with two Thrashers on the right side of the ice in the neutral zone. This creates an icing. Boston wins the faceoff and Chara scores off a slapper.
- The Thrashers have a faceoff up at the top of their defensive zone. Boston wins puck, Bogosian tries to fill lane but his man puts long shot on Hedberg. There is a rebound to the right and Popovic is beaten badly to the loose puck by noted goal scorer Steve Begin.
Notice that all four Boston goals came within about 5-6 seconds of a faceoff. I find it stunning that the Thrashers were lined up for the faceoff and broke down so quickly in each case. It suggests that the team's positioning is broken or their execution in those situations is lacking.
Now let's take a look at the Atlanta offensive problems. Heading into this match the Thrashers have needed 3 goals to win lately. The Atlanta roster is not built to win 1-0 or 2-0 games, they must score to win. But the offense game up empty on Tuesday what went wrong? To answer this question I watched the 1st and 2nd periods again on my DVR. I counted each "offensive possession"--if a Thrasher had clear control of the puck in the Bruins end I counted that as an offensive possession. Let's see what patterns emerge from the data.
Thrashers First Period Offensive Possessions
- Sustained shift, shots attempted by White, Armstrong and Enstrom good cycling.
- Hainsey with makes a bad pass, Peverley recovers but forces pass to slot, turnover, clear
- Afinogenov forced pass to slot, turnover, clear
- Oduya forced pass to slot, turnover, clear.
- Artyukhin with great deke chance but can't finish, save.
- Little crosses blueline and is checked hard off the puck, clear.
- Afinogenov high cross zone pass tipped, chase, Boston clears.
- Afinogenov drives to the net but has puck tipped away.
- MacArthur shots wide, clear
- Bergfors checked off the puck behind the net, clear.
- Bogosian passes to Little who shoots wide, recover puck and another shot goes wide.
- Armstrong cycling the puck, pass to point, return pass to Colby passes to white shoots wide.
- Afinogenov drives wide on Chara produces weak one handed shot on goal, save.
- Hainsey shot, ATL recovers rebound someone forces pass to slot, turnover, clear.
- White steals the puck and gets shot on goal.
Two trends really stand in the first period: missing the net and trying to force pucks into the slot and turning over possession of the puck. When will they learn that you have to shoot if the pass is not there? The Thrashers forwards really helped the Bruins out by just handing them the puck time after time in the offensive zone.
A lot of fans are complaining about the effort level or "wilting under pressure" and so forth. But for me, I don't see this particular game as being all that unusual because the Thrashers consistently fail against good defensive teams. The Thrashers record when playing the top 10 teams in Goals Against Average is 5-8-4, which is a pace to win just 68 points. The Thrashers record against the rest of the NHL is 27-22-7, which is a pace for 89 points. The Thrashers play well against teams that allow them room to pass and skate and they struggle against teams that don't. (If you are looking for some good news, the Thrashers have just one game left against top 10 defensive teams the rest of the season.) The organization needs to really ponder what must be done for this team to be able to win against defensively sound teams.