ATLANTA – Riding the wave of a four-game win streak and dramatic last-second victory Monday night against division rival Florida Panthers, the Atlanta Thrashers will be taking a great deal of momentum into their game Thursday night against the New York Islanders at Philips Arena.
The Thrashers appear to be adapting to Coach John Anderson’s offensive scheme as the team leads the NHL in goals per game with an impressive 3.46 mark. To put that in perspective, the dominating Detroit Red Wings led the NHL last season with a 3.52.
One of the reasons for the Thrashers hot start is the contribution of several players who were not on the roster at the start of last season. Three of the top four names found on the team’s current stats sheet are Rich Peverley (10g, 16a, 26pts), Maxim Afinogenov (11g, 14a, 25pts) and Nik Antropov (2g, 21a, 24pts). Afinogenov scored the game winner with five seconds remaining in regulation time in that dramatic win against the Panthers.
Another factor is the impressive play of their youngsters. Nineteen-year-old Zach Bogosian leads the NHL in goals by a defensemen with eight while eighteen-year-old rookie Evander Kane, another first-round pick, has contributed as well, adding (8g, 5a, 13pts), creating a rookie-of-the-year buzz around the city of Atlanta.
Goaltending is another area the team has improved and they’ve done it without Kari Lehtonen, their starting goaltender over the past few seasons. While Lehtonen continues to recover from an injury that required surgery, back-up goaltenders Johan ‘Moose’ Hedberg and Ondrej Pavelec have been sharing the crease duties. After registering two shutouts (one each) over the past four games, the Thrashers find themselves in the upper half of the league in goals against average, a vast improvement over the past few years when they hovered near the basement in that category.
Pavelec shut out the Red Wings 2-0 in Detroit while Moose put up a 1-0 goose egg at home against the pesky Philadelphia Flyers. Moose’s win snapped a 14-game winless streak against the Flyers.
Currently the Thrashers own one of the best road records in the NHL at 8-2-1 and find themselves in the fifth place in the Eastern Conference with several games in hand on the leaders. To put that in mathematical perspective, if the Thrashers win all four of the games they have in hand on the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, they would find themselves one point ahead of Sid The Kid in the standings; but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.