Monday, December 14, 2009

Thashers Preview: Brandon Back - but can Dubi Do It?

Remember the good old days when we were in 10th place in the Eastern Conference? Well, now we're in 12th place, just one point above the Flyers who have a game at hand. We're 14-15-2 and if you factor in the knowledge that we were 7-1 once upon a time this year – the fall has been steep, swift and terrible to behold

We have the league's top scorer in Gaborik. But every other aspect of our game is falling apart – starting with our (former?) franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers seem to be trying out there – which may be worse actually – since they keep on losing. But the only way to turn this around is to win and the only way to win is to play games and tonight we have a new opportunity to do just that.

One bright shiny piece of news among a steaming pile of … less good news is the fact that Brandon Dubinsky has rejoined the Ranger active roster. P. A. Parenteau, who stopped scoring a while back, was the roster casualty and will join Valiquette and Gilroy in Hartford.

Who the Hell are we playing? The Atlanta Thrashers are in 7th place in the Eastern Conference and 6-4 in their last ten games, two things that we wish we could be.

They are the hockey team of one Nik Antropov - former Ranger and one of our leading scorers last year. We played them once before this year: a 5-3 loss where Antropov had an assist.

One interesting thing about the last time we played Atlanta - it was our first game without the services of Brandon Dubinsky - who had just broken his hand in the prior game. Now it is possible that Dubinsky will return for this contest - so the Thrashers are like bookends on the injury.

Primary Skaters: Left Winger Ilya Kovalchuk has 17 goals, right winger Maxim Afinogenov (great first name) has 11 goals and Cneter Rich Peverly has 10. Our old friend Nik Antropov leads the team with 21 assists (but only 4 goals). Defenseman Pavel Kubina lead the plus–minus with +13.

In Net: The Thrashers can throw two guys at you (and why didn't we think of that?). Ondrej Pavelec in 20 games has a 3.09 GAA and a .913 save percentage. In 14 games Johan Hedberg has a 2.22 and .929%. Our own Henrik Lundqvist is a very ordinary 2.64 GAA and .916%

Scoring & Defense: Atlanta scores 3.20 goals a game – much better than our falling average of 2.77. They let up 2.93 a game, slightly better than our even 3 goals a game defensive effort. So they dominate us in both ends of the ice.

Special Effects: The Thrashers are slightly better than us on the PowerPlay. They’re 8th best in the league with a 21.1% success rate. We’re 9th at 20.9%.

On the Penalty Kill Atlanta is again one slot above the Rangers. The Thrashers are 6th best with a 84.7% PK. We’re 7th best at 84.2%

Scheduling Conflicts: We played and lost on Saturday Night - against a team that had played the night before. So extra rest hasn't helped us. Atlanta played and won Saturday – 4-3 over Montreal to break a 3 game losing streak.

Probable Lines: I don't know what Tortorella is doing. Sometimes I’m not sure if Tortorella knows what he’s doing either. Since the start of the season he had shuffled faster than a Vegas card dealer. He does this, I believe, to enforce accountability. But the downside, of course, is that no chemistry has a chance to develop.

Adding to the line confusion is the return of Brandon Dubinsky. But it’s not clear if Dubi will play right away.

I was happy when Avery was on the top line and then really unhappy when Tortorella moved him. At this point - with the offence falling apart - Tortorella might want to stop shifting his lines over and over gain - seemingly as random - and let a few lines get comfortable with each other for a few games.

And – get this – there are reports that Tortorella may break up the one combination that he has kept together all season: Gaborik and Prospal. I’m kind of speechless about that - this is the combo that has produced most of the Ranger’s offence and the league’s leading scorer. I think our coach may be losing his marbles. His moves look less and less like a plan and more and more like desperation.

On Defense: Our latest six are set to go. Matt Gilroy is in Hartford now - and looking good - according to our Blueshirt Brothers readers and friends who have watched him play up there.

And Ilkka Heikkinen is here - trying to throw the body around and show he belongs.

Del Zotto is trying to dig himself out of his plus-minus hole, but has the talent to do it. And give the kid time - he's a teenager. As one reader commented - maybe Delzy should have retooled a few days in Hartford instead of Gilly.

Fronting the Twine: I’ll say it again. I'd start Chad Johnson. Starting Hank night after night is just not working. We're burning out our brightest bulb - maybe forever.

Start Chad tonight and again for one of the two Islander games. We're not playing an elite team this week - let your main goalie watch a few games and recharge his batteries.

But - since we're always in desperation mode - it will probably be all Hank all the time once again.

Dave Puck Predicts: We need to break out of this death-spiral soon - or this is going to be a long and difficult season to watch. I've found I can’t pick against my team - especially when they're down. So I'll say we find our way to 3 regulation goals and we will win 4-3 in a Shoot Out.
Off The Record: By the way - I got Pucks Junior his first table-top rod hockey game this week and he loves it. I had a rod hockey game as a kid - longer ago than I care to remember - and the technology has improved. The game surface is slicker - the puck slides easier. On our game the left forward has a long curved track that lets him dig behind the net like Sean Avery. And they have this button that pops the puck out of the goal after you score. Very cool.

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