While it might be obvious and overkill by now, it's still necessary to point out that the Atlanta Thrashers have essentially become Blackhawks-South, or whatever other semi-clever moniker you want to bestow upon them. Because of the salary purge, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and Andrew Ladd all came to Atlanta in two separate deals, former assistant coach John "Fucking Clown Shoes" Torchetti is now aiding Craig Ramsay, and former assistant GM Rick Dudley is now the man behind the curtain in the ATL. Suffice it to say, any cutesy names are well-deserved. As for the on-ice product, Dustin Byfuglien is now patrolling a blue line full time, Andrew Ladd is deservedly playing with an alternate's "A" sewn to his sweater, and Ben Eager and Brent Sopel are....well, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel. The Thrash come into tonight's tilt 6-5-2, having been shut out 3-0 on Thursday by the suddenly competitive Columbus Blue Jackets. However, even in spite of that shutout, the Thrashers are 9th in the league in both scoring and power play percentage (at 3.0 GPG and 22.0 pct respectively), so scoring goals hasn't been that big of a problem. The problem has been in their own end of the ice, where Chris Mason has had to stand in for Ondrej Pavalec after his fainting episode early in the year. Pavalec likely gets the start tonight, but Mason's sporting a bloated 3.58 GAA facing about 36 shots a game, so he's not been getting a lot of help. Their defensive corps, now led by Byfuglien, who leads their team and all defensemen in scoring with 12 points, isn't comprised of what you'd call "shut down" guys. Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya (Oh, do ya?) and Zach Bogosian are all competent in the opposition's end, but are turnstiles going backwards.
Offensively, the other Kane, Evander, leads the team with 6 goals, and Andrew Ladd has 4G and 8A, tied with Buff for the team scoring lead. Nik Antropov has been wretched so far, with only 2G and 2A, and sporting an abhorrent -9 (at least Sharp has 16 points while dragging something like that around). Bryan Little and hidden gem Rich Peverley, and Anthony Stewart comprise whatever threat at forward the Thashers have, though Little and Peverley are slick and creative with the puck, and can exploit flat-footed Hawks defensemen. This team very strongly resembles the Buffalo Sabres from the last few years, if the Sabres didn't have a world class goalie, had less than 9,000 people in the stands, and there were more than two black people living in Buffalo. Look for an up and down game from Atlanta, and for the former Hawks to get their shots in against their once-teammates at any juncture possible.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, things aren't off to the best start today, with Joel Quennville halting the morning skate about halfway through it earlier, disappointed with the effort being put forth. This is after a for-all-intents-and-purposes bag skate yesterday, which many, including myself (kinda), called for after Wednesday's putrid loss to the clueless New Jersey Devils. One of the prospects that came back from Atlanta, Jeremy Morin, makes his NHL debut tonight against the franchise that drafted him, after seriously impressing in pre-season. Morin will skate on a line with Troy Brouwer and Patrick Sharp, who is coming off a nigh-unthinkable -5 against New Jersey. It's good that Morin is up to play the top-6 role he's projected to, but we'll see how much leeway that gets him regarding defensive zone coverage (even though his center has been barely interested in it lately). Elsewhere in the top-6 is just as intriguing, with Viktor Stalberg joining Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews after a 3-point night against New Jersey, and finally getting some PP time. While that line will certainly not lack for offensive flair and speed, the key will be winning board battles, a task which will fall to Toews- a specialty of his in the past, but something that has suffered in his game of late. The word going around was that during yesterday's ball-busting practice, a good portion of it was spent on 1-on-1 puck battles, so let's hope that gave Captain Marvel a taste for blood.
Jake Dowell will center Bryan Bickell and Tomas Kopecky, and I don't even think the three of them are sure what they're supposed to be doing out there, though Dowell has improved markedly since the start of the year. John Scott, sadly, remains at forward with Fernando "The Pope-Ah" Pisani and Jack Skille, who both deserve better, but their production warrants their current places in the lineup. The blueline will look the same as it has the past couple of nights, and Marty Turco will once again be in net. As was stated above, the Thrashers have some shifty skaters and will want to run and gun, but again, as long as the Hawk d-men keep their feet moving, it should prevent something like this atrocity from happening. Atlanta has only been putting 27.5 shots on net per game, so if the recent trend of the Hawks actually being interested in limiting the opposition's opportunities continues, Turco should need to only make a few key saves. But with this game being the grudge match it is, look for the Thrashers to come out firing. The opportunities the other way will be there, it's going to be up to the Hawks to capitalize on them. And give a full 60-minute fucking effort as well, something that we haven't seen in a while. A loss tonight to this team and these players in a similar fashion brings the ledge clearer into view. Time to knock it the fuck off, starting tonight. Let's Go Hawks.