Sunday, March 2, 2008

My Two Cents: Thrashers at Penguins

What a heartbreaker today. This team showed a lot of heart coming back from an incredibly inauspicious start, but still were unable to convert and get that extra point. Mathematically, it is becoming tougher and tougher to imagine a scenario where we make the playoffs, but what can you do except keep rooting for them?

So, we obviously didn't start this one the way we wanted to. The first goal was one of the more bizarre ones I've seen--not quite "monkey puck" quality but still a bit weird. Kari makes the save and lays on the puck... everyone stops, except Malone and apparently the ref. 99 times out of 100, the ref blows the play dead, but today he didn't, and it burned us. This doesn't make it the fault of the ref, necessarily, but still not something I wanted to see. Less than 3 minutes later, Mac overcommits on the right side, and leaves Talbot 1 v 1 against Kari. A bit of a soft goal on Kari, but he certainly wasn't helped out much by the D.

56 minutes to play and we're already down 2-0 and haven't taken a shot yet. How many of you thought "forget it, this game is over?" I admit I was pessimistic. But these guys just refused to give up. Slater scores a hardworking goal (his 2nd in as many games), and Slava Kozlov, who hasn't scored in what seems like a lifetime (actually, 15 games) gets the equalizer early in the third. And Kari stood up, shook off the two bad goals, and made some key saves to get us a point.

When everything is said and done, as much as I wanted/needed that win, I'm glad we got the point.

EC and Army looked a bit tentative out there-- i'm sure it was an emotionally draining experience for them to play in front of their old teammates at home. Actually, I haven't really seen enough of EC and Army to know for sure if they were tentative, but they looked a bit hesitant out there. They had a few good series together, and I like the chemistry they bring on the same line, but they both had a bit of puck control issues today.

Speaking of puck control issues, Kovy seems to be having a few as well. I'm not sure if it is a case of him trying too much, or perhaps experimenting with different sticks, but he is having trouble keeping the puck on his stick out there. At least once it led to a shorthanded breakaway by the Pens, but to Kovy's credit, he hustled right back and then created two huge scoring chances for us out on the powerplay. Still, I'm not sure if Kovy is regressing or what is happening with him, but he needs to start being a bit more responsible on the puck out there. I liked the chemistry of Little and Kovy - Little is still a small guy and sometimes struggles with hanging on to the puck, but he seems to be able to do more with Kovy's feeds than Todd White ever has. Any word on how long Whitey is out? His injury sounds really painful.

Holik and Kozlov have really turned it on out there the last few games. I think in Holik's case, it is probably a bit of a psychological burden lifted now that the trade deadline has passed. But he is hustling out there, bringing big hits, and taking tons of shots. He took 8 shots today (4 of them misses, but still) and is really turning things on lately. As for Kozzie, I've been critical of him for most of the year, but the last 3 or 4 games he seems to have stepped up a bit. I'm not sure if it is because some of the lines have been shifted, but there were times out there where I was actually surprised that the guy streaking up the middle was the Professor. He also had a ton of shots - 7 by games end - and had a huge tying goal for us.

I am really liking what I've seen out of Slater lately as well. He's getting a little streak going now, but he is also finally being rewarded for his hard work all season. Maybe he is finally finding his hands-- and there couldn't be a better time for it. I also liked what I saw from him on the PK. He isn't Dupuis, but he still works his butt off out there and was pretty solid on the PK.

As for the defense, I think it was actually a better game then we have seen out of them in a while, as a unit. Sure, there were some pretty huge gaffes, and some horrible giveaways, but they really stepped up when Havelid went down and played fairly well, especially considering all of them were playing more minutes than they were used to. Exelby still is having issues controlling the puck at inopportune times, and Mac had some lapses, and even Enstrom misplayed the puck in a really bad location that could have hurt us, but they stayed together as a unit and really managed to hold down the fort today. Kiwi looked pretty good - what I like to call "quietly solid" - we didn't notice him too much, but he also didn't make too many stupid mistakes. And even Zhitnik played a solid game - perhaps the defensive pairing changes actually helped him out.

As for the shootout - some think we should have played Kozlov over EC just because of the mind games that may have been present between EC and Fleury, but I think it could have also worked to our advantage. I'm not sure keeping Kovy in the shootout is a good strategy down the stretch, especially if he is already playing frustrated, but I'm not really second guessing the SO lineup too much. What is that they say about hindsight? :)

When all is said and done, I would have REALLY liked those 2 points, but I'm still happy that we didn't just roll over when we were down by 2 less than 3 minutes into the game. I'm certainly not happy the losing streak has continued, but at least we are getting some points out of our last few games. It is a very unlikely climb, but we are guaranteed to not make the playoffs if we don't get points.

Now, we REALLY need to beat Carolina! :)

Of course, this is only my two cents - I could be wrong.

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