Thrashers’ youth, team defence, sabotaged season

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The Canadiens will try to turn things around Tuesday against the Atlanta Thrashers, a team who have made more headlines this season for their ownership uncertainty than their play on the ice.

The Thrashers are not mathematically out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture but only a nearly impossible set of circumstances will allow them to make it. They kept their slim hopes alive by beating the Senators 5-4 in a shootout on Saturday, but they now start a five game road trip — visiting Canadiens, Philadelphia, Boston, Nashville and the Rangers — and Bill Tiller, who blogs about the team for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls it “their 2011 Spring Spoiler Tour,” which gives you an idea of what the locals think of their chances.

The Thrashers sit in 11th, nine points south of the playoffs, but there was a time this season when they were among the Eastern Conference leaders and even held down first place in the Southeast Division for a few minutes, running up a 12-2-2 stretch (which included a 3-0 shutout of the Canadiens) shortly before Christmas, fighting it out with the Capitals and Lightning for the Division’s top spot.

Then they went into the dumper. In their last six games of December, they got two of a possible 12 points. In January, they picked up 11 of 22 (getting skunked 9-3 by the Leafs, 6-1 by Dallas and 7-1 by the Lightning within 16 days), and in February they earned only five of 22, which really sunk them. Their 15 out of 24 points so far this month couldn’t pull them back into the top eight.

What happened? Well, the easy answer is to say they probably weren’t that good to begin with and many of the teams they beat in that stretch weren’t very good either. It’s a long season that, in Darwinian fashion, sorts out the 16 most worthy teams and with only a handful of games to go, the Thrashers have not survived.

More accurately, this is a young team, with an average age (according to NHLNumbers.com) of about 26 and a half. That’s seventh youngest in the league and five of the six teams that are younger aren’t playoff teams either. It shows in the way they play. They have trouble holding leads, losing 12 games (five after regulation) in which they’ve led after the first period, the largest number in the league, and seven in which they’ve led after two periods (five after regulation), tied for the largest number in the league. They can play a good game and be undone within a few shifts when they lose focus and get outworked or outplayed.

This is also a team that doesn’t defend well, which is a) good news for a Montreal team that isn’t scoring at all right now and b) very puzzling for a team coached by Craig Ramsay, one of the great checking forwards of all-time, a great penalty killer and a guy known in his previous stops to be a defence-first coach. But their 246 goals against is worst in the East, third worst in the NHL. They have allowed 36 more goals than they’ve scored this year. Opponents average 32.5 shots on the Atlanta goal per game, which is 27th in the league. Ramsay has worked on cutting the shots against and they’ve faced under 30 shots in 15 of their past 23 games. But they are 8-12-3 in that time.

GM Rick Dudley spoke on the team’s website with Darren Eliot two weeks ago giving his assessment of the team and, in his view, they were one of the league’s best for over half the season and then lost something, saying — in addition to youth — the schedule and some injuries didn’t work in the team’s favor (video).

They’ve gotten a relatively good season out of their most notable off-season acquisition Dustin Byfuglien, who Dudley calls his team’s star. Big Buff has 19 goals, which leads all blueliners. His 52 points rank fourth. But he’s also a minus-3. His partner, Tobias Endstrom, has also put up big numbers, some of which are good (10 goals, 41 assists, fifth among d-men) and some of which are not (minus-9). At the trade deadline, rumours circulated that GM Rick Dudley would move young d-man Zach Bogosian, but Dudley denies he was shopping 2008’s third overall draft pick, although he’d listen to an offer who would “shock” him. No one made him that offer. He’s happy with the way Bogosian is playing and thinks of him as a core player going forward. For now, he’s a minus-22 and his production has dropped from last season.

Their only 20-goal scorer is captain Andrew Ladd, who has 27 and 55 points to lead the team. Evander Kane, the fourth overall pick in 2009, has 18 goals, an improvement over last season’s 14, although he’s had nagging injuries much of the year. Former Bruin Blake Wheeler, who come over at the deadline in exchange for Rich Pevery, has done fairly well for Atlanta, with five goals and eight assists in 13 games.

The Thrashers practiced Monday and reportedly their lines looked like this:

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Evander Kane-Robbie Schremp-Nik Antropov
Eric Boulton-Alexander Burmistrov-Chris Thorburn
Ben Maxwell-Tim Stapleton-Radek Dvorak/Anthony Stewart

Thirty-four year old backup Chris Mason has started the last three games in goal with 23-year-old Ondrej Pavelec — who was hailed for his play in the first half after he recovered from his scary fainting spell on the ice early in the season opener — on the bench. Mason has won two of those games and allowed seven goals.

“Everything we do at this time of year has a purpose,” Ramsay told the media. “It doesn’t matter what happens. Chris Mason is a professional. He went through long stretches without playing. He’s been a great practice player, a great teammate and he shows up with his battle and puts his game face on. I think it was important that everybody sees that.

“It’s not just for Pavs to see, but for everybody to see what an old professional guy does, how he shows up. Three games in three and a half days and he played in all of them. When we needed him in the shootout [Sunday vs. Ottawa] he was ready and raring to go. This is just a good message for everybody.”

Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution blogged Monday that Ramsay also told the media that centre Jim Slater, defenceman Freddy Meyer and left wing Patrice Cormier probably won’t play again this season. Slater has missed 38 games with a concussion. Meyer has missed 21 games with an upper body injury. Cormier has missed 16 games with an upper body injury.

24 Comments

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  2. Fred D says:

    Following a hockey club is like watching a soap opera on TV.
    Every season the plot repeats itself, with tweaks here and there, and sometimes with different actors. Over the longer haul,the emotional hills and valleys smooth out a bit and we come to expect what happens and become a bit more philosophical. This is certainly not “The Sims” in any case, but real people doing real things, albeit a continuing chess match.

    One thing we know for sure, when we are at the bottom of a Valley, the only direction to travel is up (short of muddling around at the bottom, in the darkness, for a while!)

    Mike Boone said it best, at the beginning of the year, when he spoke of our “heart attack” hockey club.
    Tonight could “be the big one Elizabeth” (Red Foxx)

  3. Nina76 says:

    GO HABS GO!!!!!!!GET YOUR ACT TO_GETHER………HELP CAREY TO-NITE FOR A CHANGE…………IT HAS BEEN A TOUGH TME FOR HIM>>GIVE CAREY A BREAK PLEASE……YES WE CAN!!!!!!

  4. Ian Cobb says:

    Good morning!
    An article about 3 Subans wanting to play for the Belleville Bulls.
    http://bit.ly/hHqcI8

  5. HabFanSince72 says:

    What, when they chose that name for the Atlanta franchise, were they thinking ?

    Reminds me of a line from Martin Amis’ review of Hillary Clinton’s child rearing book (It Takes a Village): “You could say that the Clintons failed at the first hurdle when they named their daughter Chelsea.”

    • The Cat says:

      State bird or something, not the farm equipment.

      [Disclaimer]: I’m a hockey fan. I care about the habs, but probably not as much as you.

      • athanor says:

        Although if they moved to Winnipeg, they could change the name to Threshers, in honour of the farm equipment.

        • The Cat says:

          Well Ill be darned, I always thought the farm equipment was named thrasher as well and not thresher.

          [Disclaimer]: I’m a hockey fan. I care about the habs, but probably not as much as you.

  6. Rainrocket16 says:

    Random question for an old time Habs fan; In the Les Canadiens magazine, do they still have the cartoon/comic strips? I havent seen one in years and I am trying to teach my son everything I know and all I experienced with the Habs.

  7. rocketsglare says:

    Huge game today. The Habs must come out focused and prepared
    to battle for 60 minutes and more and simply outplay and outhustle
    the Thrashers. At stake are 2 huge points and playoff positioning.
    The time has come for this team to elevate its level of play and it
    begins with the play of the veteran leaders on this team. Without
    their contribution, making the playoffs will be near to impossible.
    Does this team have the hunger and urgency for the next 6 games
    to make the playoffs? We will soon find out starting with tonight’s
    game.

  8. habs63 says:

    I feel sorry for Kane, having to play with Schremp and Antroprov. I would love if Evander Kane was a hab.

    Besides the real Max Laps History will be Made commercial, this one is my fav.
    http://www.twitvid.com/7U2CP

  9. habs001 says:

    we still have too many non scoring forwards…pyatt is one of the worst forwards i have ever seen in the nhl goal scoring talent wise who is not a goon…moen has some good points but scoring wise he is good for 6-7 goals a year…white has upside but may not score anymore than moen…gomez this year is a 7-8 goal forward…eller this year is a 7-8 goal forward….darche has 9 goals but he looks like a 7-8 goal a season player..halpern has 11 but he also looks like a 7-8 player…we also have pouliot who scores around 15 goals a year…dd is hard to predict what type of goal scorer he is…and the remaining of our forwrds are basically 22-30 goal scorers…that we are having scoring goals should not be a suprise…if we bring back the same forwards next year goal scoring will remain about the same…2 years in a row now we will finish around 23rd in the nhl…

  10. the_larry says:

    If the Habs score 8 goals against Atlanta I wont even bother to watch the final 5 games of the season… and not because Im confident.

  11. Timo says:

    It’s either what Habs offense needs or we will be talking about how Habs were shut out by the worst D (is there worse than Habs’ D) in the league. 50/50

  12. SeriousFan09 says:

    Teemu Selanne with a 4-point night. If he stays PPG for the remaining games, he’ll jump past Mike Gartner, Dave Andreychuk and Denis Savard for career points.

    – I shall always remember Captain Koivu. Habs and Hockey.

  13. Ronan G says:

    Keep the faith in your Habs everyone!! We cheer now, figure it out in the off-season. What this team needs is support, a good home crowd push before going to the playoffs!!!! NEVER STOP BELIEVING. Journey was good for something…..

    Bertuzzi will definitely get suspended… His past record has a little blemish on it. If he doesn’t then I know the NHL is full of S#!T. Pardonnez mon Francais.

    “Trust no one…… Not even Brian Burke, he’s selling bullsh…..”

  14. HardHabits says:

    Hopefully the Habs wont score 8 goals this game but will at least score 1.

  15. doogie says:

    Who’s hungrier, them or us? Me thinks us! I’d even take a goal and a single point at this stage of the game; however, I’m still saying a Habs victoire!


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