This trip to Atlanta begins the annual fathers road trip, but these are not your father's Thrashers. These are not the Thrashers of the Don "Punchline" Waddell we used to know. And doggone if they aren't even the Thrashers we saw last month.
Four weeks ago, we had the pleasure of facing an Atlanta team that was reeling with the loss of its captain and leading scorer, leading to a 6-3 Islanders win. Now that Ilya Kovalchuk is back and scorching earth, the Islanders face the third-hottest team in the NHL over their last 10 games (7-1-2). Yipe.
That last meeting became a Battle of the New Young Coaches, with the Islanders outshooting Atlanta 45-34 overall, building a 3-1 1st-period lead on a shot margin of 21-11. But the Thrashers, despite an awful effort, scored enough to remind us they're dangerous. If tonight is a repeat of that sort of shooting gallery with Ilya in the lineup and shot-blocker/penalty killer Andy Sutton not, then look out.
These Are Not Your Father's Thrashers Goalies
Be not confused, the Thrashers are actually quite strong in goal. Which means the Islanders aren't the only team with the convenient problem of an oft-injured franchise goalie nearing a return. Rick DiPietro is due to return before Kari Lehtonen, but regardless, Lehtonen's return will create an annoying competitor for the Islanders' efforts to pawn an extra goalie off on a desperate team in need. Of course if the Isles aren't able to tie a pretty bow and nicer packaging on Martin Biron's numbers, then other sellers won't be the problem.
Sure, that's getting ahead of ourselves -- we don't know in what form DiPietro will return, just as the Thrashers don't know how Lehtonen will look after rehabbing injury #218. Still, if a couple of teams need goalie answers in the next few months, it'd sure be nice if the Islanders were the team offering the best solution ... for a steep price.
Do You Know Who Rich Peverley Is?
You should, by now. He was available on waivers last year -- just like Maxim Afinogenov was -- only the difference is someone actually claimed Peverley. Atlanta hasn't regretted it since.
|2009 - Rich Peverley||24||10||16||26||5||16||6||0||5||0||51||19.6|
As far as Afinogenov goes, the easy case to make is that he's been scoring quite nicely -- both he and Peverley are outscoring the Islanders' top scorer -- so the Islanders should have made a run at him over the summer.
|2009 - Maxim Afinogenov||24||11||14||25||8||20||2||0||1||0||54||20.4|
But I can't get past that no other team saw fit to grab Afinogenov both for free late last year nor during the summer free agency period. Atlanta didn't get him until they brought him to camp on a free agent tryout -- and for them, doing everything they can to please Ilya in his walk year, that was a no-brainer. For me, if the Islanders had fellow Russian speakers like Kovalchuk and Nik Antropov for Max to play with, then by all means: Bring him in. It was never a question of whether the man had crazy talent; it was a question of which Afinogenov you were more likely to get.
Given the Islanders' current roster and make-up, at minimum there's no way he would have been as good a fit here as he's been in Atlanta. Worst case, we'd be going through the same weird consistency issues that he saw in Buffalo. Of course, on the other hand, if Snow was willing to take a flier on Rob Schremp -- who has a similar reputation but a far less impressive body of work -- then, um ...?
This Is Not Your Father Doug Weight's Powerplay
The Islanders powerplay is now 1 for its last 28, not having tallied twice in a game since Nov. 14 in Florida. The unit's proficiency has dropped to 17.2%. I've said this before, but the easy answer is they miss Doug Weight's calm presence and vision on the point opposite Mark Streit. I don't mind seeing Kyle Okposo there, but he is a go-go player whereas Weight is a patient puck holder, a guy who can create space for himself (and Streit) just by moving the puck on his blade.
Who else can do that on this team? Is Jack Hillen an answer -- or will opposing penalty killers press Hillen more than they would press Weight, because they grew up watching Weight and they have no idea who this Jack Hillen guy is? This is when a Zach Bogosian would be nice to have, but alas, we'll have to wait a while on that front. Chris Campoli apparently thought he ought to be the next choice, but I notice he was a healthy scratch in Ottawa the other night.
There Will Be Goals
In the last five meetings between Scott Gordon and John Anderson's offensive pedal-to-the-floor teams, the Islanders have scored 17 goals and the Thrashers have scored 20. Yes, combined they average over seven goals a game. Look out, highlight reel, and pity the goalies. (This is why I root for the Gordons, the Andersons, the Boudreaus, the DeBoers and the Bylsmas of the world to have NHL success. No offense, Mr. Lemaire.)
Speaking of goalies, as of this posting I hadn't heard who draws the assignments. So if you hear it, leave it in comments (along with your usual gameday thoughts and such). I know I'd go with Dwayne Roloson -- who faced the Thrashers last time -- against a potent attack, but it's been a very very long time since I coached an NHL game.
Random: Richard Park wore a "non-contact" jersey yesterday, but it's hard to imagine that man letting an injury get in the way of his spot in the lineup. Frans Nielsen (also in "non-contact" chic) is day-to-day, which means the chances are very good for an encore showing of Rob Schremp Hockey.
See some of you tonight in the game thread, if not sooner.
Prediction: Last goal wins, and the fathers have the time of their lives.