Hello to all Blueland residents out there. We saw an opening night that definitely wowed us, but in the same regard made us fear that we might be looking at some parts of last year we really wanted to forget.
We won the game, 6-3, and found out that this team is a lot deeper than we thought and that maybe we do have a shrewd GM tandem after all (albeit it may be three years behind schedule).
As we have all had time to bask in the win that showed us why we love hockey, I have come to some conclusions that I would like to share with you about the team.
The first being the man wearing the “C”, No. 17, Mr. Kovalchuk himself. The man is playing possessed right now and looks like he wants this team to win with him in the spotlight. Let’s be honest folks, who wouldn’t?
I was sitting in the lower section of the arena and could clearly hear him from the bench yelling and encouraging his teammates who were on the ice. I can’t think of the last time we had a leader like that in Atlanta. He has a spark in his step and he is playing like the latter half of last season, wherein he belted out points every night.
This defense is different. Before everyone gets freaked over the 39 shots from Tampa Bay, keep in mind anyone can throw a puck at the net (I barely play hockey and I could get a shot on goal), but where the shots are coming from is more important.
I will gladly take where the shots were coming from against Tampa Bay (most were from steep angles or from a good distance from the goal).
Ondrej Pavlec didn’t have to worry that much about the slot since Mr. Kubina was dishing out the hits and blocking shots like it was his job (I guess that kind of is, isn’t it?)
Beyond this, we can score from the back and two of the six goals scored were courtesy of the D-men.
I seriously think our top four is now in the top half of the league and will be a nightmare to play against as the season progresses (no one can sleep on anyone on the ice anymore; all five guys on the ice really can score).
This team has loyalty to each other. Toby took a cheap hit and Thorbun basically jumped the assailant and had a great fight that showed the Thrashers will not back down.
I’m not going to lie, I am not used to seeing the boys in blue fight back so hard—usually, they just let it slide and score a goal to make a point. Not any more; it’s an eye for an eye treatment now.
Size matters. Those two words speak for themselves. We upgraded on size and man, did it show that game.
With the speed the Thrashers already had, the size just made cycling the puck in the offensive zone that much easier.
Nik Antropov is a massive human being and he knows how to use that size. He single-handedly took a beating twice to create two goals because of the attention he drew.
Meanwhile, our blue liners look massive since we swapped a six-footer (Garnet Exelby) for a much denser 6’4” Pavel Kubina. That size alone now allows us to control the puck more in the offensive zone and get the opposition off the puck in our defensive zone.
Goaltending is everything. For two periods, Pavlec played lights out, but in the second period he hit a lull.
If it gets 60 minutes of solid goaltending, this team will be hard to beat.
Our goalies need to step up on the PK and show why we pay them what we do or we need to find someone who will.
This is a key position on the ice and since we are without Kari in '09, we need someone to show a flash of inspiration until Mr. Lehtonin returns (that’s a whole different article in itself).
God help us on the PK. For all the great things that got fixed in the offseason, how in the world did this hole get missed? This might be the Achilles' heel of a team that could top 260 goals this year.
If we keep our PK percentage over 80, then we make the playoffs easily. If it falls under 80 percent, your guess is as good as mine as to where we will end up.
I see this team as a much grittier team than years before, and that chip on the shoulder that we need to prove ourselves to the league so Canada will stop asking for our team (sorry, had to put that in there) just makes us play harder.
It’s a long season and only one game has gone by, but things look much brighter in Blueland than in years past. Now, if only we can get through this road trip and steal two wins. When the boys come back home after that trip, that’s when we will know who this team really is.