Without question, Wednesday’s 4-3 loss was the best game the Atlanta Thrashers have played this preseason.
They overcame a slow start offensively and came back from a 3-1 deficit in the second before ultimately falling to the Nashville Predators at Philips Arena and dropping to an 0-4 record. But the team is feeling confident about its progress since training camp started two weeks ago.
“Night and day if you take our first game versus now,” said goalie Chris Mason. “We still have stuff we need to work on, but that’s just guys who have never played together playing together. But systems wise and as far as ice awareness I think we are getting so much better and the mistakes are getting fewer and fewer.”
Head coach Craig Ramsey needed far fewer words to express his squad’s progress.
“We scored,” he said simply.
While three goals may be nothing to write home about, considered it equaled Atlanta’s offensive output from the previous three games, it is certainly a positive step forward.
The defensemen, Freddy Meyer and Zach Bogosian in particular, jumped into the offense all night and both were rewarded. Meyer scored on a shot from the point just 12 seconds after Nashville forward Martin Erat scored his second goal of the game to give his team a 3-1 lead.
And Bogosian, after taking a feed from defensive partner Johnny Oduya, blew down the ice and sent a beautiful cross-ice pass to Ben Eager who simply had to tap the puck in the yawning cage.
“It was a great play by Bogo,” Eager said. “He used his speed and had his head up the whole way … and I’ll take those goals all year long.”
Added Ramsey: “I think our defensemen are really beginning to get our systems. We had a couple of defensive breakdowns but that happens. When we fell behind we went right back after them and offensively I was very encouraged by what I saw tonight.”
The Thrashers also showed a lot of resiliency all game long. They spent the majority of the first period hemmed in their defensive zone but blocked nine shots and went to the intermission tied. And then after allowing two quick goals on the penalty kill, scored on the next shift and tied the game a few minutes later.
“The first shift after any goal is a huge shift and for us to come down and get a chance and to have a puck go in the net really stops the momentum they got,” Meyer said. “Obviously everyone is still learning the system and we are trying to put everything together in our defensive zone coverage. Luckily that’s why we have these preseason games to learn and get better.”
Antropov ‘better than expected’ in first game
Wednesday night saw the preseason debut of leading returning scorer Nik Antropov, who had not played while recovering from offseason surgery. Antropov played 12:44 and even saw some time on the penalty kill.
“I feel better than expected,” Antropov said. “It was tough at some times, but it was good to be back on the ice.”
“He won some faceoffs but you could tell it was a bit of a grind for him and Nashville plays a pretty fast pace,” Ramsey said. “But he handled himself well defensively but we need him to win more cycles and win more battles in the offensive zone.”
My Top-3 Stars
1. Martin Erat, Nashville, 2 G, 1 A— Erat scored two goals and assisted on another and was clearly the best player on the ice Wednesday.
2. Freddy Meyer, Atlanta, 1 G — Meyer was second on the team in ice team, scored the Thrashers second goal and played a strong game on both ends of the ice.
3. Zach Bogosian, Atlanta, 1 A — Bogosian showed his speed at both ends of the ice, played responsible defense and had a wonderful assist on Eager’s goal to tie the game at 3-3.
Despite falling to 0-4, the Thrashers have a lot to be positive about. For one, they scored but for another, they looked a lot more comfortable playing with each other. Considering the turnover this team experienced in the offseason, they were bound to get off to a slow start. It’s a feeling out process, and they are starting to get it.
The defensive corps has taken Ramsey’s philosophy of joining the rush seriously. Meyer made a couple of pinches that resulted in splendid opportunities that just couldn’t find the net. And Bogosian’s assist on Eager’s goal was stunning to watch from end-to-end. The tandem of Bogosian and Oduya could be a force this season.
The forwards, however, still have some learning to do. They have the tendency to crash the net, leaving too much space between the “high” forward and the defensemen. Nashville provided an excellent example of keeping a forward around the faceoff dots, as two of their goals were scored from there.
It really is too bad these teams don’t play each other more often. The Predators are the closest opponent Atlanta faces, but at most, only sees them twice a year. Six games a year between these teams would be fun to watch.