Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thrashers slide back into the race

Even as recently as the New Year, there seemed little question where the Atlanta Thrashers fit into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

As the best of the struggling Southeast Division crew, Atlanta was poised to cruise into that soft No. 3 spot, earning the franchise's first-ever playoff berth with a division title.

But after getting swept in a swing through the Canadian portion of the Northwest the past week, Atlanta's previously insurmountable lead has been frittered away to just three points over the Tampa Bay Lightning. And with just one win in their past seven games and a 6-10-3 record in the past 19, the Thrashers should suddenly be concerned about just making the playoffs.

Because, more than anyone, Atlanta's been sliding right back into the dogfight that is the Eastern Conference race.

Thrashers' record by month:
October: 8-2-3 (73.1%)
November: 8-5-1 (60.7%)
December: 7-4-2 (61.5%)
January: 6-5-2 (53.8%)
February: 1-5-1 (21.4%)

That's called a trend.

There are a handful of teams that have been on a skid recently (hello Montreal!), but no one has been as consistently bad at the Thrashers.

The good news is that they still have a seven-point cushion over the 9th and 10th place teams (Toronto and the Islanders), but that's not enough to continue to go in the tank as much as they have.

Why the sudden downturn? Aside from the fact that this just simply isn't a very deep team, either upfront or on the blueline, what's killing Atlanta at the moment is the team's special teams. Over this 19 game skid, the Thrasher power play has converted on just 11 of 93 opportunities (11.8%) and the penalty kill has been just as brutal at 61 of 86 (70.9%).

Overall, the goals have also dried up — they've averaged 2.74 goals per game in the past 19 after averaging 3.17 before then — and the Thrashers have fallen all the way to 21st in goal differential.

In short, even if Atlanta does manage to limp into the postseason, they won't scare anyone.

You know things are desperate when a team's GM turns to Eric Belanger, he who has been dealt 13 times since September, as a possible trade-deadline solution for the team's massive hole at the No. 1 centre spot.

Much like the Edmonton Oilers gambled by heading into this season without a solidified defence after losing Chris Pronger, the Thrashers took a by-committee approach to their top centre job when Marc Savard walked out the door — and it's about to cost them.

So much for the Hossa for the Hart talk.



At 1:40 p.m., February 14, 2007, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

This looks eerily like the month-trend I just posted about the Ducks (except Anaheim's highs are higher and lows are lower).

I guess I'd expect these teams to return to respectability to some degree, but how do you project rosters that can play both out-of-this-world good and is-this-the-same-team bad, especially when the bad results are more recent?

Worst part about being a fan in these scenarios is knowing there's a good team in there somewhere, but where's it been lately?

At 1:56 p.m., February 14, 2007, Anonymous Logan said...

For the record, the Thrashers were not "swept in a swing through the Northwest the past week." They beat Colorado 6-3 on Thursday, andi'm pretty sure Colorado is still in the Northwest Division.

At 1:59 p.m., February 14, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Right — I knew that. Fixed it.

At 2:05 p.m., February 14, 2007, Blogger Matthew Macaskill said...

If Montreal and Atlanta missed the playoffs after their strong starts, I'm sure it would surprise a lot of people. Also, I would expect changes from each franchise during the off-season if it did happen.

It's really amazing how quickly teams can fall out of position with a losing streak nowadays.

At 3:32 p.m., February 14, 2007, Blogger Paul said...

What happened to the Kovalchuk that was suppose to be the next 60-goal scorer and perennial Richard candidate? Is Marc Savard really the difference between 80 and 98 points? This season feels like a big step back for him.

At 5:35 a.m., February 15, 2007, Blogger Luke said...

I'm not sure how much the swing through the Northwest division shows about Atlanta -- Carolina did a similar nose-dive through Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Denver in December losing all four games. Their record before the Western tour was decent and it's been even better since.

I think this shows mostly what we know already: Eastern teams don't have the stamina for the long road trips since they barely ever do them anymore.

At 9:45 a.m., February 15, 2007, Blogger The Falconer said...

It's the scheudule. I did a post about on my blog (

In the month of Feb. 75% of the teams ATL plays made the playoffs last year. This is by far the most difficult month using that measures.

If you look at their season Atlanta's win percentage is almost the mirror image of their strength of schedule. Jan and Feb are the two most difficult months and they have nose dived.


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