December 20 2010 09:43AM
If we were to go back in time to 2008 let's say and I asked you to name players on the Atlanta Thrashers, you'd probably have a hard time naming players after you rattled off Ilya Kovalchuk and Colby Armstrong. The fact is, they were essentially the Atlanta Kovalchuks.
He was the captain, the best player, their points leader, and perhaps the reason why they never found success. Today's Atlanta Thrashers are the very definition of a hockey team, with everyone at every position contributing to make a team currently sitting 5th in the East and only 2 points out of the Southeast Division lead. In the goal scoring department, they have 11 players with 5 or more goals thus far on the season, second only to Colorado who has 13.
They have 6 players with 20 or more points, good for a 4-way tie for 2nd behind league leader San Jose who has seven 20 point players. They are a team.
The only way to beat a team is to play like one; something the Maple Leafs have struggled to do all season. 3-13-2. That's Toronto's record when Phil Kessel is held scoreless. How can one man have such an impact on the team's success? When that team is a weak conglamaration of individual talent it can.
Aside from the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin line, the only line for Toronto with any semblance of cohesiveness and teamwork, the other players seem more like inviduals sharing ice than they do teammates. Something that cannot be said about Atlanta.
Watch their games and you see 6 guys on the ice working as one towards a common goal and having butt loads of fun doing it. Watch Toronto games and you see rampant individualism resulting in a lack of success. Toronto doesn't play like a team and are going to learn firsthand tonight why such a thing is necessary for success.
What makes Atlanta so difficult to defeat is that they have no head, no weak point to target. Who are the Leafs going to key on in order to shut down Atlanta's 5th ranked offense? Byfuglien? He's a defenseman. Besides, then you'd have to watch for Enstrom or Bogosian. Ladd? Then you'd have Kane and Antropov tearing you up.
Seriously, all this talk about Atlanta being such a complete team has me at half mast. Is it alright to be a closet Thrashers fan?
All this talk about offense however ignores Atlanta's best player this season, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Sporting a 2nd best .944 sv%, Ondrej the Giant has been lights out between the pipes this year and he's had to be as Atlanta is a rarity in that they have a great record, but get outshot nearly everygame; 30.9 shots for, 33.9 shots against.
Granted maybe that doesn't mean much as Toronto has given up a 5th best 28.1 shots a game while getting 28.6 shots for. 29 shots is not going to be enough for a win with Pavelec in net and Atlanta's potent offense potting over 3 goals a game. If they want a W, the Leafs are going to have to find their scoring touch (again?) and pot 4 or 5 tonight because Atlanta will probably turn Toronto's suspect goaltending into Swiss Cheese.
The man trying to make that not happen? Jonas Gustavsson who starts his second game in a row with J.S. Giguere out indefinitely with a groin injury. The last time this happened, Wilson played the Monster too much and he fatigued as his numbers showed. For his and our sake, I hope Wilson starts Reimer at some point during Giguere's absense.
The one thing going in Toronto's favor tonight is that this game is taking place on a Monday instead of a Tuesday where a game against a Southeast opponent is almost a guaranteed loss. Not that Toronto should be taking anyone less that seriously this season, but Atlanta is a wholey different team than they were with Kovalchuk and may be the 3rd best team in the East when it's all said and down.
A win tonight would be a statement for Toronto, so let's hope they make one.