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.