Friday, March 28, 2008

My two cents: Thrashers at Panthers

I'm so confused, hockey gods. I know it isn't good karma to root for your team to lose, and quite frankly, I'm just not wired that way. I want to be happy about tonight's win, and I am, but it actually hurt our draft position. Oh well. I'm a glass-half-full kind of person, I guess.

Tonight was a great all-around effort. Still gave up tons of shots, but Kari had an absolutely monster game. You could tell that last-second goal pissed him off, and he might even be playing with a chip on his shoulder, but wow. I'd even venture to say this was one of his best games all year. He also got lucky a few times, but he came up with some HUGE saves when it counted. I mean, throwing your stick out of the way to block the shot with your armpit? Amazing.

For much of the game, it really was a goalie's battle. Both teams had great chances that they couldn't convert (both teams missed on a wide open net), and both defenses played pretty solid. It seems like the refs were calling everything tonight, and the PK was just outstanding (for both teams, really). Florida went 0-7 on the powerplay tonight. Kudos to the PK unit.

I really liked the Armstrong/Slater/Perrin line. They did a great job of cycling the puck, and seemed to keep it in the offensive zone longer than any other combo. It was hard to really get a sense of lines tonight because of all the penalties, but they stood out as being great on the puck tonight.

Little played great with Kozlov and Recchi. I thought both Kozzie and Recchi had solid games and lots of chances, and I didn't notice Little as much until his awesome assist on the GWG, but I really do think Little is making the players around him better. Great hustle, great puckhandling, more of that please.

Our D corps actually played a pretty great game tonight--as a unit. Sure, we could point to a few miscues (i.e. Bobo on Horton leading to a breakaway), but for the most part guys were there backing each other up, staying in position, and keeping the crease clear. I know the Panthers had a few point blank shots in the first, but other than that the D seemed to do a great job in the zone tonight. Let's not get carried away, there are still problems (44 shots! Not just on the D players, but on defense in general), but they played well as a unit tonight.

Holik is a beast. What more can you say? I wish he'd do it all year, but credit where credit is due, he was on tonight.

Kovy seems to be in a mini-slump-- he still has those flashes of brilliance where he dekes 3 players and still gets off the shot (and did you see the shot as he was sliding across on his belly?), but he didn't play a complete game tonight, in my opinion.

Overall, it was a morale booster for the guys, and a well-earned win for Kari. I'm glad he gets to enjoy this win. And, if you're into such things, we probably killed Florida's playoff chances!

As always, this is only my two cents. I could be wrong.

Friday, March 21, 2008

My two cents: Caps at Thrashers


I think the first two periods were some of the best hockey we've played all year - not necessarily stats wise (I think we took 5 or 6 shots in the first), but as a total team effort. We had outstanding goaltending, hard-hitting defense, puck possession, and energy. I didn't know what to expect coming into tonight's game, but it seemed like the guys were at least going to make Washington work for a playoff berth-- and they were going to make AO work for his goals tonight as well.

The second period was outstanding-- I really wanted Slater to get the hat trick! When was the last time he had a multiple goal game? Enstrom's goal was a beauty--and just illustrates why I would like him to keep shooting the puck, please. He has started doing it more lately, but imagine how he could have done if he did it all season instead of the patented "fake" move on the PP?

Unfortunately, as has been the case all season, we didn't show up for a full game. The mystery is always which period we are going to take off-- tonight it was the third, obviously. They took 23 shots in the third period. That was more than we took for the entire game! We (once again) took our foot off the gas with a lead, and it came back to bite us. Everything fell apart in the third-- our D collapsed, our forwards stopped shooting, we couldn't hang onto the puck... we played to not lose the game, and Washington played to win the game. Kari absolutely stood on his head tonight, and it really sucks that he takes the L for this one.

Perrin, Slater, Holik, Lehtonen, and Enstrom played well.

The checking line played well, especially against Washington's top line.

Otherwise... well... there's always next season I suppose. Let's hope we draft well.

Congrats to AO for netting goal #60 - first player since 1995. I hope they make the playoffs and do well. They've earned it.

As always, this is only my two cents. I've been wrong before.

Friday, March 14, 2008

My Two Cents: Flames at Thrashers

Well THAT was an exciting one, huh? Certainly not the best defensive display by either club (10 goals against, total), but this one had a ton of excitement, energy, hitting, and scoring. And, we even managed a fight! (I'd call that one a draw though). I thought for sure we'd get lit up tonight, but our guys bounced back and took advantage of a few Calgary miscues to stay in the game all night. It is hard to stay motivated when you're down 3-0, then 4-2, but when it was gut check time, it turned out we actually had something left tonight.

I think the biggest difference tonight was the shifting of the lines. I didn't keep track of it all night, but there was a Kozlov, Recchi, Little line, and Kovy seemed to split time with Thorburn and Holik and Armstrong and Christensen. I think it definitely elevated Holik and Kozzie's play, and Kovy was hunting all night. The goal race between him and Iginla probably helped his motivation a bit.

We also seemed to do a much better job cycling the puck in the offensive zone tonight. Instead of dumping it in and losing it along the boards, they stayed in position and managed to move the puck around (the Perrin/Army/EC line, when they were together, seemed to do this the best). It not only helped us hang on to the puck longer, but it created huge chances at the point - at least one of Kovy's goals was created from our ability to control the puck in our own zone tonight. More of that please. :)

Props to Thorburn for burying his chance tonight as well. He works his tail off out there every night, no matter the score, and it was good to see him get on the board. As I already mentioned, Holik had a pretty huge game - not only offensively but he was also making huge hits all night long. Little had some good chances, and I continue to be impressed by the energy and effort by both EC and Army out there. It is especially impressive given that they both were used to playing limited minutes in Pittsburgh. And Kovy's hat trick was a long time coming, and of COURSE I was wearing the one hat I'm unwilling to throw on the ice. I have never yet participated in the hat-throwing - I'm either watching it on TV or not wearing a hat. Oh well.

Our defense played pretty well, overall tonight, especially in the latter half of the 2nd and the 3rd periods. The 1st was just atrocious - 2 breakaway goals is not generally the way you want to start your game. It was especially surprising because the first goal was a poor play on Enstrom, who has been so solid this year. Credit where credit is due, I thought Exelby had a pretty good game - not outstanding, but he did a better job playing in position tonight. I think keeping him paired with Mac makes the most sense - he has played his best games this year while paired with Mac, in my opinion. Kari had a fairly average game, for him. It is hard to really fault him 100% on the breakaway goals, but he let in a softie or two, nonetheless. He seemed to do a better job controlling rebounds tonight though, and made some huge saves when it counted.

Overall, it was an entertaining game. And don't look now, but we actually were NOT outshot tonight (only the 8th time this season). AND, we won in regulation! Happy early St. Patrick's day, everyone! :)

As always, this is only my two cents. I could be wrong.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Two Cents: Avs at Thrashers

Ouch. That was a tough one to watch. Although I do think there is some freedom in finally being able to just watch the hockey and not worry about points and playoffs, tonight's effort was not particularly inspiring.

While there are plenty of negatives to highlight (i.e general lack of enthusiasm), I'd like to just point out a few - after a while you can only say something so often before it gets redundant. Moose didn't have a good game tonight - the defense didn't help him out much, obviously, although the shot totals for once ended up being almost manageable (I'm not sure whether this was because we stepped it up or because Colorado went easy on us or some combination of both). Exelby was out of position on two goals pretty noticeably - he is just having an awful year. Our powerplay was horrid tonight - or perhaps the Avs PK is really good. We did get a few good looks but otherwise it was pretty uninspired - we couldn't even keep it in the offensive zone on our last PP.

Despite the lopsided score, I did think there were a few positives tonight - I still like Little and Kovy together, and I hope that pairing continues. I think Kozzie is playing heads and shoulders above his play earlier in the year. I also liked the Kiwi/Mac pairing. If you had asked me before the game I would have thought that was a horrible idea, but they actually looked pretty good together. Finally, I think the EC/Army/Perrin line is really starting to gel - Perrin still looks a bit out of sync but they are really starting to click out there. Army in particular is really starting to get into a rhythm, and I'm excited to see how those guys do next season.

Not a lot to be excited about tonight, but at this point I'm just looking for things to build on for next year.

As always, this is only my two cents. I could be wrong.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

My Two Cents: Canes at Thrashers

Well, folks, it isn't looking like it is in the cards for us this year. Perhaps that makes me Captain Obvious, but it seems we just don't have what it takes this year to make it happen out on the ice. This is not a call to arms to bail on the team or quit supporting them or any of that nonsense... but we don't have the right mix of personnel and grit and intensity to be one of those teams this year. We've been a .500-ish team all year, and we continued to play like one tonight.

Frankly, we played like a team that had gotten thrown out of practice the day before.

We can whine and yell about the refs (horrible), we can lay blame at individual players, but when it is all said and done we have never had the chemistry, the "oomph" factor, not just tonight but for the entire season. We have been outshot all but 7 games this year, we give up the most shots in the NHL (tied with Florida), we don't clear the crease, we screen the goalies, we don't backcheck, we don't pressure, we don't possess the puck well etc. This has been true all season. What's that saying about the definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over and expecting different results? Your 2007-2008 Atlanta Thrashers.

That being said, we just didn't have it out there tonight. We took a lot of penalties, and never really got into a rhythm out there. Even though we scored first, Carolina had us on our heels all night. Kari didn't have a good game - he was screened on the first goal but the 2nd and 3rd were probably stoppable. Our defense played a mediocre game pretty much across the board (Enstrom did all right); at this point, put Mac and Popovic in and call up the youngsters.

The lone bright spot was Erik Christensen; he hustled on almost every shift and had a sweet move on the breakaway to keep us in the game, albeit temporarily. I like what I'm seeing out of this kid - he'll be fun to watch.

I was glad to see DW get fired up, but at this point in the season, it seems a bit too little, too late.

I'll still be at every game, but I've accepted that this isn't our year.

As always, this is only my two cents, I have been wrong before.

My Two Cents: Wild at Thrashers

Every time you think it is over, they SUCK you back in!!

I did not have high expectations for tonight's game. But, something felt different tonight. I actually felt it. I thought we might win this one. Even looking at the stats after the 1st (5 shots), I still felt we were playing a better game. And, if you took away that b*****it 5 on 3 the Wild had in the 1st, we were right in this game.

I am getting more and more frustrated with the quality of the referees in this league, or at least any of them who happen to be calling our games. I'll just leave it at that.

Anyway, onto the game.

Moose had a hell of a game. He seems to play better when he is a little fired up. I'm not sure if he got the 10 minute misconduct for whatever he said to the referee or for his swipe at the Wild player after the goal, but he really stood on his head and came up big in OT. Has anyone checked if Slater is still in the penalty box? I can't believe they made him sit in there during the shootout!

I also thought our defense played an OK game considering the opponent, save for a few stupid penalties (Ex and Klee) and a few misplayed pucks. I definitely did NOT miss Zhitnik out there. Klee had a decent game tonight I thought, and really used his body for once. He was making big checks and digging out pucks in a way that we don't often see out of him. He did, however, get outplayed badly when he took a penalty in the third--it looked like he took the penalty just to get the stoppage in play because he was out of gas. Hard to really fault Kiwi on that BS call in the third that led to Minny's goal, but I thought he played a fairly solid game as well. It seemed like overall, our guys were making bigger hits tonight - but they weren't the Exelby style get-out-of-position-for-the-big-hit kind of hits...they just seemed to bring their hitting game tonight. They were even challenging Minnesota at the blueline - something they haven't done consistently all year. I think the Wild is a better team, and that being said, our defense did an admirable job standing up to them tonight.

Kovy had a decent game - he handled the puck better tonight than he did against Carolina, that's for remains to be seen whether they'll keep that goal scored as Kovy's (even Kovy himself said he thought EC scored it). Kozlov also had a good game - I thought for sure he scored a goal when we had a 5 on 3 (the one where they turned the light on). What a letdown. Maybe Kozzie read the paper and realized that everyone has noticed he's coasting out there. I think for most of the night the 4th line (Slater, Boulton, Larsen) did the best job of actually keeping the puck in the offensive zone. EC and Army both played solid games--and we're finally starting to see a bit of that Armstrong hitting. Great goal for him - I hope these Baby Pens keep up their scoring streaks--they are becoming a huge part of our offense, it seems! Perrin seems a bit out of sync with Dupuis gone. I know they usually only played together on the PK, but his play has been noticeably different since the trade deadline. He seemed to be playing a more Jon Sim-like agitator role tonight, but he's not getting and/or creating the same chances he has been all season.

This was an exciting win for a franchise and fan base that needed one. While it is probably too little, too late, I'm glad the guys haven't just rolled over and played dead - they showed a hell of a lot of character to battle back not once, but twice (with less than 2 minutes to go!) to force OT. I bet the guy in my section who threw his beer cup and had a temper tantrum and stormed out of the arena after the Wild scored their second goal wishes he had that one back.

As always, this is only my two cents - I could be wrong.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Prospect Update: Spencer Machacek

Thrashers prospect Spencer Machacek is having a breakout year playing for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL. Machacek, the Thrashers third round pick in last year's draft, had only registered 45 points in each of the last two seasons, but has already reached 75 points this season, with 33 goals in 65 games.

The Giants lost a lot of veteran leadership after least season, and Machacek has stepped into that role, serving as Captain and leading the team in scoring.

Jim McNally, a poster on the Thrashers message boards, is a Vancouver Giants fan and has followed Machacek's progress closely. Here is his background about the prospect:

"Since being selected by Atlanta in last years draft, Spencer Machacek has grown and improved as a player and is leading his defending Memorial Cup champion Vancouver Giants to another winning season in the WHL.

"At the beginning of the 2007/08 season, Machacek was named the captain of the Giants after his friend and billet mate and previously named captain, Milan Lucic achieved his hockey dreams by cracking the Boston Bruins lineup.

"It now fell to Machacek to grab the leadership reins in what was considered to be a rebuilding year for the Giants. "I think Spencer is a great choice in that he's been a key player in two long playoff runs and two Memorial Cup tournaments," said general manager Scott Bonner. "He has a lot of confidence and fire that will rub off on the other guys and make us a stronger team."

"Previously considered a second half type of player, Machacek started racking up the points early and set a blistering points pace. He leads the Giants in goals, assists, power play goals, short handed goals and game winning goals. He sits in 8th spot for top scorers in the WHL with 75 points in 65 games.

"The so called rebuilding year for the Giants see them 2 points out of top spot in the WHL with a handful of games remaining in the regular season. As for Machacek, his personal best season was just recently recognized when he was named the WHL Player of the month for February.

"The 19 year old forward from Lethbridge, Alberta recorded 27 points in 14 games through the month, netting eight goals and 19 assists all while maintain a plus minus rating of +13. Machacek picked up four goals and six assists through the first six games of February and ended the month on an eight game point scoring streak accumulating 17 points in eight games, including four goals; three power play markers and one game winner.

"For his efforts Machacek was named a game Star in seven contests during February, including five 1st Star and two 2nd Star selections.

"Never one to rest on his laurels, Machacek has his foot still firmly on the gas as he takes the Giants into the playoffs and perhaps ultimately to compete for the Memorial Cup for the third time in as many seasons."

Thanks go to Jim for that. Sounds like the Thrashers have a very good winger in the system with great leadership and scoring abilities.
Picture (C)

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.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

SportSouth: Are You Kidding?

Ilya Kovalchuk just scored his first career penalty shot goal a few minutes ago in Boston. Missed it? So did everyone.

SportSouth went to commercial right after the referee called the penalty and pointed to center ice. Come back from commercial, and the Thrashers have a goal, and they have to show it on replay.

Well done, SportSouth.