Once again the Thrashers played decent for the bulk of a game but were beaten when they took the foot off the gas and lost focus for a three minute span to end the second period and start the third.
Last night’s 4-1 loss in Buffalo to the Sabres was the fourth straight loss for the Thrashers but all four were close for the majority of the game. The Thrashers have played just good enough to hang with their opponents but not good enough to get over the hump in crunch time, and that’s where seasons are won and lost. A 40 minute or 50 minute effort doesn’t get you wins down the stretch, and that’s what the Thrashers have been getting. there are players who are giving it 100% every shift, but on any given night there seem to be 4-5 who are having a really off night, and as Andrew Ladd said following last night’s game (as quoted in the AJC):
“You need big efforts from everyone in the room… It seems like we have some guys going and some guys not. This time of year we have to have everyone on the same page.”
A quick look at the stat sheet from last night tells you who was having the off night- Toby Enstrom was -4 and on the ice for goals on three consecutive shifts. Dustin Byfuglien was -3, as were Evander Kane, Nik Antropov and Anthony Stewart who were on the ice for the two goals in 30 seconds to end the second period (the 22nd time this season they’ve given two in a span of39 seconds or less according to Chris Vivlamore).
Compounding the problems for the Thrashers right now is a lack of depth due to a rash of injuries. The Thrashers have four forwards on the shelf, three of which started the season on the opening night roster (Jim Slater, Freddy Modin and Alex Burmistrov). none of those three players was expected to carry the load offensively but they have contributed a combined 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points this season in 127 total games. Compare that to the one goal and three assists scored by their replacements (Patrice Cormier, who is injured, Nigel Dawes, Tim Stapleton, Patrick Rissmiller, and Spencer Machacek) in 63 games.
None of those replacement players is expected to put up big numbers, and Rissmiller actually played very well last night, but when you have three to four callups in the roster who can’t be leaned on for depth scoring late in close games the bench gets very short very quickly, especially when you consider that Chris Thorburn and Eric Boulton are two more players who aren’t generally used much when goals are needed. The end result is that the top two lines get leaned on heavily and they tire, which leads to mistakes, and then things spiral out of control.
At some point someone other than Andrew Ladd (six goals in his last six games) and the new guys (Wheeler and Stuart who both had strong games again last night) has to step up and contribute on a regular basis. Time is running out and fans know this routine too well.
The good news is that a five point gap isn’t insurmountable if they can get back on track. The Thrashers usually play well at home versus the Panthers (who they host tomorrow night) and Carolina plays the Penguins next. An Atlanta win and Hurricanes loss cuts the gap to three points with a game against Toronto coming up on Sunday. A really good weekend could have the Thrashers in striking distance heading into Monday’s trade deadline.
Can the Thrashers do it?