Watching the Thrashers last night was pretty rough. In fact, I nearly turned the game off, and I almost never think about turning off a live hockey game.
It was a night where not a whole lot went right for the Thrashers: they were beat at even-strength, they were beat at special teams, they were beat on a penalty shot. They lost an important game to a division rival that clearly wanted the win more. After a strong start, the Thrashers ended up on a couple successive penalty kills and just never regained momentum.
In a game where the Thrashers were outscored 4-2 at even-strength, the "180 Line" of Little - Antropov - Bergfors ended up as a +3 with 3 points (that's +1, 1 point each) and a total of 12 shots.
12 shots! Compare that to the Peverley line (6 shots, -5, 1 point total) and the Kane/Artyukhin-Slater-Armstrong line (4 shots, -2, 2 points between the 4)... Clearly the Thrashers have found a solid top line. More on these guys after the jump...
The addition of Niclas Bergfors has been good for the Thrashers in general, but it's been especially good for Bryan Little. For comparison's sake, here's Bryan's stats before and after he began playing with Bergfors:
Those (obviously) aren't per game numbers, but at a per-game rate, he's obviously picked up the assists and total points. Goals are a bit closer, but those have picked up too: from 0.15 goals/game to 0.25. That's still on a relatively small sample size, but if you extend his current play across an 80-game season, Bryan ends up with 20 goals, 51 assists, and is +41. Those are the numbers we'd love to see from a 12th overall pick in 2006.
Bergfors has had absolutely phenomenal numbers with the Thrashers. Over an 82-game stretch, he projects out to 61 goals, 10 assists, and +50. That's not to say that I think Bergfos will score 60 goals next season, but it isn't unrealistic to expect 30 goals from him. If Bergfors scores 30 goals, he will almost single-handedly replace the scoring lost in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade. He places a little defense to boot!
So, despite the awful play from the team last night, there are positive things in the cards for the Thrashers, both this season and next. While the Montreal Canadiens have technically taken the 8th playoff spot from the Thrashers, if you sort the standings by Games Above/Below 0.500, the Thrashers are still sitting in a playoff spot.
A win tonight against the Hurricanes and a Canadiens loss to the Ducks will put the Thrashers back in 8th. (For those of you keeping track, you should be cheering for the Ducks, Penguins, Sabres, and Maple Leafs tonight.)
As Coach Anderson has begun saying, "every game is the most important game of the season." The Thrashers are going to need to avoid some of the long losing streaks that have plagued them for so many seasons. Win two, lose one, and make the playoffs. Win two, lose four, and we're done.
Tonight's Three Questions of the Game:
- Can the Slater Line Perform without Evander Kane? The Thrashers lost Kane in the first period against Tampa after he blocked a shot with his foot. He was ruled out for tonight's game during the Tampa game. We'll have more information on Monday, so it's not time to freak out (yet). The injury has broken up what has been the Thrashers' most consistently strong line over the past couple months. During the Tampa game, Evgeny Artyukhin moved up to fill Kane's spot, and I imagine he'll be there again tonight (with one of White, Kozlov, or Boulton dressing to fill the open spot on the 4th line.) Artyukhin has the speed and size to be a force on that line, but he may not have the chemistry that Kane had.
- Can the Thrashers Bounce Back in Goal? Johan Hedberg did not have a great game. Sure, he didn't get much help from his team, but he wasn't spectacular. If the Thrashers expect to make the playoffs and actually win a game this time, they're going to need some spectacular goaltending. So far this season, at least since November, it's been all Hedberg. He's going to need to be the game-stealing Hedberg... or Ondrej Pavelec is going to need to play like the Pavelec that shutout Detroit in The Joe.
- Can the "180 Line" Keep From Doing Another 180? Consistency is tough, especially for young players. Both Bryan Little and Niclas Bergfors have been a little inconsistent. (Remember that, before coming to the Thrashers, Bergfors was pointless in 13 games and goalless in 17.) Nik Antropov doesn't have a reputation for being a consistent scorer. This line has been a major boon for the Thrashers because all three guys have been playing excellent hockey. If that changes, if one or two of these guys hit a slump, it could mean major problems for a team that needs to be firing on all cylinders to win.
If you don't already have tickets to the game, remember that the team is selling good tickets for just $20... with half of that going to the Haiti relief effort. Details are here on the Blueland Blog.
Tonight the Thrashers will...
This poll is closed
Bounce back and crush the Canes!
Win... Maybe in OT, but it's 2 points...
Squeak out a point.
Lose in regulation.
Get crushed. Destroyed.