Thursday, January 12, 2006
"You fell, you fat pig. Have another doughnut."
That seemed like the appropriate title the day after going to a game reffed by the famous Don Koharski. Anyway, with apologies to Koharski (who obviously did a fine job last night, as evidenced by the fact that Nashville ended up with eight more penalty minutes) and Jim Schoenfeld, here are my thoughts on my first in-person immigration to Blueland of the year:
1. I had forgotten how great hockey is in person, especially when sitting behind one of the goals to see the spacing and the development of the plays. I had also forgotten how much the netting behind the goals annoys me, especially because the thick top border of the netting obscured my view of the far goal.
2. The Thrashers were clearly the better team, but the game went to a shootout because of outstanding goalie work by Tomas Vokoun, who lived up to billing by stoning the Thrashers for two periods plus, despite the Thrash creating some really good chances. Initially, the Thrashers were just getting shots on net and he was saving everything. Then, they started to get freaked out by Vokoun's Czech spell and they missed the net for a significant period of time. Finally, they broke through on a shot by Slava Kozlov (set up by a great cross-ice feed from Andy Sutton) and then had offensive success for the rest of the game.
3. Nashville's power play reminded me of Italian calcio (at least before a team takes a lead and goes into a catenaccio shell): they probed and probed and probed by swinging the puck around and it looked like they were accomplishing nothing, but all of a sudden, they had shrunk the Thrashers' formation and they were getting chances close to the goal with everyone in position for rebounds. Unlike the Italians, they didn't punctuate their probing with a series of dives, followed by histrionics and stretchers.
4. Ilya is, and will likely always be, a mesmerizing offensive talent who once or twice a game takes risks that cause me to hit myself on the forehead and exclaim "Ilya, what are DOING?" He also needs a nickname in the worst way. "Kovy" just isn't going to go into Valhalla with "The Great One," "Super Mario," "The Russian Rocket," or "The Grim Reaper."
5. It's no coincidence that the Thrashers won their first shootout of the year on a night on which Kari Lehtonen was between the pipes instead of the AHL crew.
6. As is their wont being sports radio hosts, the Mayhem in the AM crew overreacted this morning by saying that the Thrashers are almost in 6th place in the East. Their position is far more precarious than that. They're three points behind Toronto for 6th, but Toronto has two games in hand. They're three ahead of New Jersey, who just got Petr Sykora back, and the Devils have two games in hand. They're four ahead of Montreal in 10th and the Canadiens have a full four games in hand. In other words, if their competitors win their games in hand, then the Thrash will be on the outside looking in. If the team keeps playing the way they are (11-2-3 in their last 16; unbeaten at home since December 1), then the games in hand won't matter and the Thrashers will get a nice, mid-level seed (and thereby avoid playing Ottawa in the first round.) The fact that their rise has coincided with the return of their starting goalie is evidence that they can keep playing at or close to this clip. That said, it's hard to keep playing this well and if they come back to earth, there are plenty of teams who could leave the team playing golf in April again. The home game against St. Louis on Friday night is as much of a lay-up as there is in the NHL; the back-to-back roadies against Dallas (#2 in the West) and Los Angeles (#5 in the West) next week will be telling for this team's future. Last night's win over the #4 team in the West was encouraging.