(Photo Courtesy of Monika of LeafSpace.com)
Good evening folks! Time for something a little different: an actual gameday preview post!! Aren’t you excited? Okay, didn’t think so. But I did pull together a few tasty morsels of information on which you can chew until the puck drops in just over an hour.
Tonite, the Atlanta Thrashers make their first appearance on Air Canada Centre (that’s Centre as in Canadienne??) ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs (apparently grammar isn’t all that important in Canada). Just having a little fun at the expense of the lovable hosers in Tronna. Now, withour further digression, here we go yo, check the scenario:
1) Is there any team in the NHL more erratic and unpredictable than the Leafs? They come into this game with a record of 12 – 16 – 4, but despite their sligthly below average record, they’ve been anything but average when it comes to predictable trends. Three times they’ve had losing streaks of 3 or more including an 8-game autumn swoon that came on the heels of a win against Florida which had just put an end to their blazing, out-of-the-gate 4-game winning streak. In addition, they have not fared well with consistency in December going L, W, W, L, L, W, W, L, L for a 4 – 5 – 0 record thus far this month.
2) Speaking of December schedules, the Leafs just returned from a 3-game Western Conference road swing that saw them lose two of three against Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. The lone win, over the Oilers, avenged an earlier, puzlling 5 to 0 drubbing at the hands of the Oilers on home ice in early December. So the Leafs come into this game losing 2 in a row while the Thrashers come in rebounding strong with a win over New Jersey after losing two straight games in shootouts. Of course, the Thrashers happen to be 11 – 2 – 2 over their last 15, which has catapulted them to the front of the standings, where as the Leafs are struggling to get something going after a 6 – 8 – 1 stretch in their last 15 games.
3) Luckily, for the Leafs, they seemed to have settled into a better rhtyhm of late going 7 – 8 – 1 since the 8-game losing streak knocked them screaming back to earth like a failed rocket launch in 1960′s Soviet Russia. But the biggest problem for the Leafs has been playing well consistently and finding the back of the net with more than spotty efficiency. To wit: the Leafs have scored 46 goals in their 12 wins for an average of 3.83, which is rather impressive for a team that only has 72 goals on the year in 32 games. Unfortunately, for Leafs Nation, the other 20 games have been wraught with hair-pulling frustration as they have only dented the twine 26 times in those 16 regulation losses and four OT let-downs.
4) Finally, the Leafs have had a real hard time rebounding after losses, thus propelling them to extended strings of losing. On the season, they are only 4 – 11 – 3 in games after a loss. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, as teams desperate for a win can really jump up on a better team not expecting it, the Leafs have beaten Nashville, Dallas, Boston and Montreal in those 4 instances — all of them on home-ice. So the Leafs can be a very dangerous team when their angry I suppose.
So what does this mean for the Atlanta Thrashers? Well, if you follow the Thrashers you know by now that they like to jump out early on teams and play from the lead. In 17 of the last 21 games (hat tip to Chris Vivlamore of the ajc.com beat), the Thrashers have scored the 1st goal. They’ve built on that lead or held it all but 7 times. But more recently, that early lead getting has been getting them lots of wins — 11 to be exact and 2 OT points. Certainly, the Thrashers would like to come out strong and get the first tally to put the doubt back in the minds of the Leafs, who are playing their first home contest after a long roadie, which is always a daunting task.
Assuming the Thrashers don’t suffer from the obligatory, post-Kovalchuk “revenge” game syndrome and manage to come out of the tunnel with their legs feeling good, then the Thrashers have a good chance at doing just what I talked about above. The Thrashers would probably prefer not to get into an up and down pond-hockey affair this evening, instead hoping to get the all-important 2-goal lead to force the Leafs to take unnecessary chances to strike back in a hurry. The Thrashers have been good at hurting teams in transition when they jump up into the offensive zone at the wrong time, not to mention they are one of the best shot-blocking teams in the league. So if Toronto hopes to win, they better get to Ondrej Pavelec and the defense early and put the “chasing” onus back on the Thrash who love to play with the lead, when the “safe is death” mantra becomes a lot safer. We shall see.
Author’s Prediction? I know this is silly, but since we’re playing in the Canadian hockey capital, I’ll step out on a limb and say the Thrashers win 4 to 2 with their first empty net goal since Andrew Ladd’s against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in mid-November.
About the Author: Accountant / Analyst who has a nagging writing addiction when it comes to hockey. I've been a hockey fan since I was a wee tyke and now my allegiance to the Atlanta Thrashers has me "mentally thrashed". My other long-time passion is the game of golf so I'm a glutton for punishment! As a mid to late 30-something, I'm blessed to have a girlfriend who aids and abets my hockey / blogging obsession. Hockey heroes include: Gilbert Perreault, Adam Oates (Go RPI!), Pat LaFontaine and Marty Reasoner. Follow me on the twitter machine @j_barty_party