Watch out for Atlanta…
Before the season began I picked Atlanta as a team who could surprise people and possibly even unseat Tampa at the top of the Southeast division. Early in the season this looked like a terrible prediction but the Thrashers are on a roll and look to be reaching the quality of play I thought they would. The Thrashers have won 3 games in a row outscoring their opposition by a score of 19-2 crushing the Carolina Hurricanes (who had won 9 in a row and 11 of 12) 9-0 tonight. Why the slow start and the subsequent turnaround? The reasons are simple.
1. Bad goaltending. Kari Lehtonen who was a rookie of the year candidate was injured throughout the pre-season and then injured his groin again in the first game of the year. And then backup Mike Dunham got injured. That left them with two sub-par rookies in goal who were simply not good enough to play at the NHL level. Mike Dunham is now back and healthy and providing good goaltending.
2. Kovalchuk: Ilya Kovalchuk missed all of the pre-season and the first few games of the regular season due to a contract dispute. Having not had a training camp it took him a while to get back into the flow of the game and in sync with his teammates. He has 6 goals in his last 2 games so it is safe to say he is back in game shape.
3. The Trashers made quite a few changes in goal, on defense and up front from the 2003-04 season. It’s taken some time for these new players to start playing like a team. Some other teams who also made a lot of changes have struggled at times too (i.e. Calgary, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Edmonton). It just takes time for players to learn to play with each other.
I think Atlanta’s recent success is here to stay mainly because I think Atlanta’s offense is probably second best trailing only Ottawa’s (and probably not trailing by much) led by Kovalchuk who might be the best offensive player in the NHL. And Hossa, Savard, Bondra, and Kozlov aren’t too shabby either. Atlanta’s starting to make their move so those teams in the southeast division better watch out.