After watching the Atlanta Thrashers jump out to a 3-0 lead, then blow it, then win in overtime over the Ottawa Senators on the road, I felt I needed to write something about this win.
This team appears unflappable. It has leadership throughout its lineup and it has bought into head coach Craig Ramsay’s system 100 percent. This is a new team down in Dixie, and hopefully the local fans will begin to take notice.
So without further ado, here are my thoughts from afar.
Nothing fazes this team
Despite being outshot 9-0 to start the game, Atlanta scored on its second shot of the game and ended up taking a 3-0 lead in the second period. Shortly afterward, defenseman Brent Sopel gift-wrapped a goal to Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson. Ottawa maintained its pressure in the third and Chris Neil jammed home a rebound to cut the lead to one. Minutes later, Zach Bogosian interfered with Jason Spezza on a breakaway, and Spezza scored on the subsequent penalty shot.
Despite blowing the lead, Bryan Little intercepted a Spezza pass and raced down the ice, lifting a shot off Ottawa goaltender Brian Elliott for the game-winner and his second goal of the game. The Thrashers were outshot, outplayed for most of the game, yet still found a way to win, and that’s what playoff teams do.
Big Buff cannot be stopped
When Thrashers head coach Craig Ramsay announced Dustin Byfuglien would be moved back to defense, hockey pundits — lead by Jeremy Roenick — cried foul. Yet Big Buff has proved them all wrong by playing solid defensive hockey and scoring — a lot.
Byfuglien set an Atlanta franchise record for goals by a defenseman with his 11th in the second period. In the first, he literally skated circles around the Ottawa defense to set up Little’s first goal. While Chris Thorburn got the primary assist, the goal would not have happened without Big Buff. And late in the third, with the Thrashers needing a boost of energy, Byfuglien leveled Neil in the defensive zone.
He may be a long-shot, but Big Buff should receive consideration for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman. He has earned the recognition.
‘Cool as the other side of the pillow’
The phrase made famous by ESPN’s Stuart Scott applies perfectly to Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec. As he has all season, Pavelec made big saves when his team needed them.
During the Senators barrage to open the game, Pavelec stood tall, giving his team the chance to find its sea legs and get on the board. Shootouts and penalty shots have given Pavelec fits this year — he’s 0-6 in his career in shootouts — and after allowing Spezza to score and tie the game, he regrouped and made more big saves to give his team a chance to win in overtime.
As my buddy Mitch says about Pavelec, “Guys, I got this.” And he does. If you need proof, check the NHL’s goaltender stats, and you’ll find Pavelec second in both GAA and save percentage.
The Thrashers are for real
For those waiting for the Thrashers to fold, I have a news flash. It’s not gonna happen. This team has won 10 of its last 12 games and jumped into a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings and are two points behind the reeling Washington Capitals for the Southeast Division lead.
Very few predicted this team to have this kind of success, and it’s not a fluke. After being called out by Ramsay for quitting on a Nov. 17 loss to Florida, Atlanta has been nearly unbeatable. And of those 10 wins, four have come against division leaders — Washington twice, Detroit and Montreal — and Atlanta outscored those teams, 16-2.