Atlanta Thrashers (8-14-3) at New York Islanders (10-13-2)
7 p.m. EST | Nassau Coliseum | MSG+
It is cruel, frankly -- just cruel -- that the Thrashers franchise's only exposure to the playoffs was that sweep by the Short Island Smurfs two seasons ago. Atlanta is a crowded sports market, a non-traditional hockey market that receives all the associated ribbing that entails, and the Thrashers ownership is a cold, in-fighting corporate crew that currently seems to favor the NBA Hawks.
But the excitement of playoff hockey can be a refreshing elixir that turns curious on-lookers into mainlining addicts. It cures ills (and creates new ones -- lovely, wondrous new ones). A taste of playoff high gets you coming back for more, orienting your September through March around the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we'll get that thrill again.
With that 2007 four-game flop, though, Thrashers fans never really got a proper taste.
Now Don Waddell is still at the helm, Kovalchuk is headed to free agency with little supporting cast as incentive, and it feels like the Thrashers are further back than two years ago. (Islanders fans who survived the '90s know that feeling.) Atlanta's best gain-without-loss trade chip is a goalie who doesn't stay healthy enough to net his talent in trade value.
Like the Islanders, though, the Thrashers at least have a promising coach; may he survive to see the fruits of his work.
They also have Kovalchuk (for now) and young Bryan Little and Tobias Enstrom. Zach Bogosian is one to look forward to, although -- why does this happen to teams in need? -- he broke his leg in game 8 this year.But that is the future. Right now, the Thrashers are not a pretty thing to see. As Blueland Chronicle describes:
God bless the Czar, the Kahlua Line, Hainsey, Enstrom, and our three goalies. As for the others: some of them are good on occasion, but not nearly good enough on a consistent basis; some try very hard and I thank them for it (looking at you, Jimmy Slater); others are nice, likable people that can't play a full game of NHL hockey.
Now Kovalchuk has been grouped with checkers to get him extra ice time and possibly shake some well-roundedness out of him. But:
"His shot is as wild as ever. In the last two games only six of 21 shots he has taken have made it through to the goalie and been on net. Is a strategy of having him blast away from the point on the power play the right way to go?"
They're saying trade Kovalchuk now -- but who can trust Waddell to do it right?
When last these teams met, the Islanders blew a winnable game, which was quickly becoming a recurring theme. Impossible to know what to expect from this matchup, but the reeling Thrashers were trounced in Ottawa and had a couple of days to think about it. If there's any fight in that team, they'll come out hungry. Then again, the Thrashers have won only once since Nov. 14; they better be hungry.
Relevant to nothing: I don't know if Thrashers have large talons, but they do have horrendous third socks. Those are just foul. Patton would have their creator shot.