Thursday, January 31, 2008

The World Notices Enstrom


Watching Enstrom play this season, it’s almost impossible to fathom that 30 teams and hundreds of scouts could have been this wrong about a guy. Few outside the Thrashers organization and Enstrom’s immediate family had even heard of him prior to this season. And even those who knew him had no notion the little defenseman who could would come in and put together a season worthy of consideration for the Calder Trophy.

Almost two-thirds through the season, there is little doubt Enstrom has forced his way into the consciousness of voters for the Calder Trophy. At this point, the field has narrowed to a five-player race consisting of Patrick Kane, Nicklas Backstrom, Jonathan Toews, Peter Mueller and Enstrom.

The Hossa Situation (with nail-biting)

An interesting and wrenchingly informative piece from Craig Custance about the Hossa situation. The consensus seems to be that Hossa's as good as gone. Sigh. I know I wrote last week that I was fine with trading him, but I have to admit I'm having a hard time facing the possibility of him leaving. He was the first Thrasher that I really loved, sniff sniff...

I am willing to let him go, though. The Thrashers that I insist on keeping forever are (I've just decided) Kovy, Kari, Exelby, and Tobi Enstrom. True blue Thrashers all, through and through.

Kovy the Downed, Penguin-Trouncing, and more

Well, that game against the Penguins was awesome, no? Glad to see Kovalchuk score again, not so glad to see him injured (if I see that Penguin in the street he's a DEAD MAN). And Jimmy Slater is obviously God.

Here's Craig Custance on Kovalchuk:

Thrashers forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who injured his knee on Wednesday night against Pittsburgh, is undergoing an MRI Thursday afternoon. But the Thrashers said it is more of a precautionary measure and that Kovalchuk likely won't miss substantial time.

"He's a lot better today," said general manager and coach Don Waddell.

Waddell ruled Kovalchuk out for the weekend, so the forward will miss Friday's game against Buffalo and Saturday's game in Washington. Assuming the MRI comes back negative, Kovalchuk will be re-evaluated at the beginning of next week by team doctors. There's no swelling in his knee and he was walking without a limp.

"He's a great athlete and he's in
great condition," Waddell said. "We know he wants to play."

And here's Custance on how the Thrashers will adjust this weekend.

Money quote:

"The Thrashers will most likely bring up Brett Sterling to play in Kovy’s spot, although Waddell said that hadn’t been decided yet for sure. The Wolves just returned to practice today after the AHL All-Star break. But Sterling would be the logical replacement for Kovalchuk for now, and Waddell indicated that’s what he would do."

Get well soon Czar. And congrats to all the Thrashers on that fabulous win.

One last note: did anyone else see that amazing save that Tobi Enstrom made IN Kari's net? Kari was godlike last night, but he nearly gave up a goal sometime in the second period (I think). The puck had glided past him and towards the net, but Enstrom reacted in a nanosecond and smacked it out of there. That's why he's a candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Monday, January 28, 2008

All Star Safari

Now that the haze of the All-Star Weekend is beginning to clear, I feel I should congratulate Atlanta and Phillips Arena on putting on a fine show and being an overall excellent host. I think the Thrashers fans represented their city fairly well, and hopefully this will make it clear to hockey fans all over North America that there are SOME hockey lovers in this city.

The highlight of the game last night was the interplay between Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks. Wicked shots and wicked saves. They're two of my favorite players, and it was fun to watch Nabokov drive Kovalchuk nearly insane.
The real highlight of the weekend, though, was seeing the the mascots from all the different teams. Harvey the Hound of the Calgary Flames, Sharkie of the San Jose Sharks, Howler of the Phoenix Coyotes, Fin the Whale from Vancouver, Carlton the Polar Bear from the Toronto Maple Leafs: thank you! You put on a marvelous show and made my weekend.
Speaking of putting on a show, I think it's beyond all doubt now that the Russian players have the most showmanship, theatricality, and flair. Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, and Nabokov seemed to be having the most fun and trying out their most exaggerated and dashing moves. Thank you, comrades, thank you.

All in all a fun and alcoholic weekend. Now it's back to business for Blueland. We're playing a Crosby-less Penguins on Wednesday, and I fully expect Kovalchuk to score 80 goals.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dignity Regained

It's too bad that we lost last night, but I'm glad that 1) we got a point, and 2) we played much, much better than we had been these last few games. Johan Hedberg turned in a wonderful performance in goal, one of his best; the Moose was exceptionally loose.

Meanwhile, our defense was good all around; I would give particular props to Exelby and Holik. Marian Hossa proved, once again, that he's a bloody great and hard-working hockey player. He deserves praise as well.

The bottom line? If we keep playing like that we will ultimately do well this season and get into the playoffs. When you factor in Ilya Kovalchuk the prospect of a playoff position becomes near certain.

The other bottom line? Johan Hedberg is the greatest athlete of all time.

The other other bottom line? Is Ken Klee still alive?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hedberg in Goal Tonight, In Fact

Craig Custance at the AJC says so.

Manhattan is about to be ransacked by a giant Swedish moose!

Hold on to Hedberg

This is really more a matter of emotional attachment than playoff calculation, but if your name is Don Waddell and you're reading this PLEASE DON'T TRADE JOHAN HEDBERG!

Not hockey-related, but...

Winston Churchill died 48 years ago today, which wouldn't be worthy of a post at the Blueland Chronicle (January 24th passes by once a year, every year, I think) except for this exquisite photo gallery in his honor at Slate. Take the time to look at it; the photos of his funeral are unreal.

There are obvious parallels between Winston Churchill and Ilya Kovalchuk, as I'm sure you all recognize. Our future captain is out for tonight's game because he was too belligerent in the last game; sound familiar? Churchill was a fiery presence in Parliament and in the British press for most of his career; when he became too violent in his opinions and rhetoric he was thrown out of the game, so to speak. He came back later, of course, and used his nearly-superhuman gifts to save the world. In the same way, Kovalchuk's fire and belligerence has gotten him into trouble, and for now he's "the Lion in Winter" (title of the volume of a Churchill biography that covers his outcast years; it comes from a line in Shakespeare). I'm sure that when he returns to the ice his superhuman gifts will save the Thrashers from a losing record and raise us phoenix-like to playoff glory.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kovalchuk Suspended 1 Game

Kovy was suspended for his hit against the Rangers last night. In case you didn’t see it, Kovy left his feet and received a Boarding Major and Game Misconduct. I thought it would be left at that but he got the suspension anyway. Personally, I love the fire Kovy brings to EVERY game and don‘t really have a problem with this hit. Anyone who has every played hockey, be it a NHL game or just a Beer League, knows that sometimes your emotions get the best of you and you do something out of character. What separates hockey from every other sport is that it truly is a game of passion. If his teammates could match his effort (not his talent, his effort) we would have no problem. God Bless our future Captain.

His suspension got me thinking about the most talked about “dirty” hits in the past several years. As a lifelong Caps fan, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the hit Hunter put on Turgeon in the playoffs. I know it was wrong, but as a frustrated Caps fan it was a thing of beauty and well worth the 20+ game suspension! You also have the obvious ones like McSorley’s high stick against Brashear. What a sad way to end a pretty damn good NHL career… not sure what Marty was thinking. And, to me personally, the most despicable of all was the Todd Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore. If you are new to the sport and don’t know what I’m talking about just google it. What REALLY gets me going is Bertuzzi is now saying his coach Marc Crawford ordered the hit. What a load of crap!! Sure Moore hit Naslund pretty good in a game earlier in the season, and Crawford said he must pay. There is nothing wrong with that. He made sure his players knew to hit Moore hard so that he wouldn’t do it again… that’s hockey. What Crawford did not say is for someone to go out there and break his neck with a horrible hit from behind. That IS NOT hockey. Bertuzzi can’t even accept responsibility for his own actions. What a disgrace to our sport! The sad part is that these dirty hits I just talked about is all the media will cover… when something bad happens… but that subject is another article all in itself!

In the spirit of dirty hits and “goons”, check out the Warren Zevon classic “Hit Somebody”. You might recognize the voice yelling in the song… sounds an awful lot like David Letterman!

The Case of Comrade Zhitnik

The Falconer over at Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons? has a fine post about Alexei Zhitnik's consistently poor performance and wonders if Waddell should trade him. I've never been a Zhitnik-hater (this species does exist, believe me), but I think it might be time to trade him and acquire a feral hog on skates.

Another idea about reforming our defense: if Bobby Holik could produce some kind of animal noise as intimidating as his face the other team's forwards wouldn't even think about shooting the puck.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

CEO You Later

So, big news in Blueland with the firing, uh… I mean resignation of Bernie Mullin. Don’t let them fool you, he was shown the door. Have you ever had a relationship that was mutually ended? No, you haven’t. You were dumped. Bernie was fired. Get over it.

It sounds to me like the CEO position has been downsized, which is kinda weird. Some of the owners of the Atlanta Spirit have been very hands on, which can be a good thing and a bad thing (think Arthur Blank and Jerry Jones on the sidelines when their coaches are trying to coach). Now, Waddell will report to the owners and not Bernie. I’m not really sure what to make of this. Maybe things won’t really change at all. Lots of speculation on the net that this has to do with the Hossa situation. I find that hard to believe (I know, it’s no fun to have a blog and NOT have a conspiracy theory). It is a little strange that last week the owners and Waddell met with Hossa and his agent for 7 hours and Mullin was not there (ok, there is your conspiracy theory).

From the outside looking in it is impossible to say why this move was made. The aspect I am curious about is the timing. Is doing this a few days before the All Star Game really the best move? Also, Bernie’s contract was up at the end of the season. Why not let him finish out the year? Did the Atlanta Spirit think this had to be done before next month’s trade deadline? As you can see I have a lot more questions than I have answers.

On a side note, the Leafs fired John Ferguson Jr. today. So the worst kept secret in hockey finally happened. He really did have a poor tenure in Toronto didn’t he? Anyone who gives $20 million to Pavel Kubina deserves to be in the unemployment line. Not quite Mad Mike Milbury status… but then again who is! Makes you wonder if Paul Maurice can escape the chopping block like he did so many times in Carolina. My guess is he is next. His replacement… how about Hartley? His hometown is just down the road from Toronto and I think he would be a good fit there.

Back to the Thrash, we will have a much better idea of where this franchise is headed at the end of the year… or possibly even in the next month. Sit back and see what happens.

Thoughts on our latest debacle

--Kari Lehtonen is an amazing goal-tender and an absolutely essential player. At this point, I'm fine with Don Waddell trading Hossa; the only two players I insist on keeping forever and ever are Kovy and Kari. Kari played exceedingly well tonight, though you wouldn't know it from the score and the statistics. That's why it's essential to evaluate players on their actual, concrete performance on the ice and not abstract statistics alone; T-Man has a good point about that vis-a-vis defensemen in this post. Anyway, Kari is a wonderful goalie and he played very well tonight. It's our defense (with the exception of rookie Tobi Enstrom) that's fucking appalling. Help, please.

--The Czar was exiled tonight, and it looks like he might remain in Siberia for one more game. This sucks, obviously, but perhaps it will give him time to think and re-energize.

--After that spectacular game against the Red Wings, I wanted to keep Hossa at nearly all costs. My state of mind tonight: go ahead and trade him.

--I wish Kovy had decked Sean Avery instead.

Thrashers 0, Rangers 4: Post-Game Analysis

Drop The Puck

Hey there. I'd like to start off by saying I'm not a blogger... well, until now anyway. The idea of having my own unofficial hockey column was too much to resist. To those of you out there reading this I'd like to say welcome, both of you. This will be a sporadic addition to The Blueland Chronicle. Just in case you are wondering, sporadic means whenever I feel like it.

Let's start off by getting a few of the "hot topics" out of the way. I think Dany Heatley is a worthless piece of crap, not because of the accident, but the very "unhockey" way he left town and talked about Atlanta upon his arrival to Ottawa. Don Waddell is a very smart, good hockey man, but this is the year to put up or shut up. I see no problem with yelling "Knights" during the national anthem. The cool thing about America is that it is a free country, and Jeff Odgers thinks yelling it is alright. Trust me, you don't want to disagree with The Sheriff. Don Cherry is the coolest man alive. John Buccigross is the only thing ESPN has to offer (except for the Mullet of course). Mike Madonna needs to quit whining when he represents his country. Philips Arena is the absolute best place to watch a game. I'd rather watch "Opera Man" on a loop than learn anything about the Hawks. JP Dellacamara is the WORST play by play man in the league. I'm sure he's a nice man but if you don't know the rules of the game you need to stick with woman's soccer. Dan Kamal is the BEST play by play man ever. Don Cherry is the coolest man alive. I will never understand why messageboarders are so negative. I can appreciate and recognize a good defenseman not by looking at his +/- but by watching his play on the ice. Don Cherry is the coolest man alive. Nothing in the world is better than a bowl of popcorn and a 10:30 Oilers game. I will never understand why there is no Gretzky award for the most assists for the year. I will never understand why the NHL does not promote Kovalchuk. The new Reebok jerseys are just plain stupid. Oh, and Don Cherry is the coolest man alive.

Well, now you know where I stand on all the key issues. I have no idea where this column will lead. Probably I'll just ramble on about things that are important to me and no one else. The great part about that is, I don't really care about what anyone else thinks.

Musical Matters #1

I love the fact that Kari Lehtonen loves Atlanta hip-hop; this city certainly offers the best in forward-thinking, creative hip-hop (Outkast, Gnarls Barkly, Danger Mouse's other projects) and the worst in stupid, sonic-crack type hip-hop (I won't name names). I will say that even though I'm not a huge fan of Lil' Jon (though I am a huge fan of Outkast and company) I'm happy to see his mug emblazoned across Kari's helmet. Or was happy to see it; is he wearing the Uma Thurman/Lucy Liu helmet full time now? That's a good one as well.

At any rate, the point of this post is that for the first time in its history Atlanta has a credible indie rock scene. During the 80's it was Athens that spawned brilliants off-kilter rock bands like R.E.M. and Pylon and the B-52's; nowadays Atlanta supplies the world with deliciously weird and varied bands like the Black Lips, the Selmanaires, Deerhunter, and many others (some of whom I like, some of whom I don't really like). I love the Black Lips in particular; wouldn't it be a fine thing if we could get some of their high-energy, catchy flower punk played on the PA system at Thrashers games? Some of the songs seem tailor-made for sing-alongs and chants.

Don Waddell is a chemistry professor.

Lookee here.

No Crosby for the next six weeks?

For fear of jinxes and bad karma I'll forbear commenting on this.

Turmoil in Blueland

The Thrashers CEO has just quit.

I didn't even think about this, so caught up was I in my hysteria about Ovechkin overtaking Kovy and Carolina winning, but the Thrashers are now in third place behind the Carolina Hurricanes and the Wasington Capitals. Ovechkin and the Caps have been on fire recently, and I expected this might happen. Another reason to win in Madison Square Garden tonight. And then again on Thursday. How can a team go from beating the Detroit Red Wings 5-1 one week to third place in the Southeast Division the next? How? Why?

Reasons the Thrashers MUST win tonight

1. Ovechkin has ovetaken Kovalchuk as the NHL's leader in goals, while Vincent Lecavalier has taken the number one spot in points. Kovy needs to reclaim his number one spot honor in both of those categories.
2. The Carolina Hurricanes won last night. The Thrashers need some points, and we can't count on the Hurricanes to lose. We need victory!
3. To make Atlanta proud and confident to be the host for the All-Star Game. Come on, guys, Atlanta's hosting the event and Kovy, Hossa, and Enstrom are all participating in one way or another. Wouldn't it be nice if we could go into the All-Star weekend with a division lead?

The Russian Formalists

I'm still a relatively new fan of hockey, and I have to say that one of the things I don't like about the NHL is the Canadian hockey establishment's sense of entitlement and entrenched hostility to foreigners. Now, don't get me wrong readers; I love Canada and her people and hockey players. What I don't like is that the Canadian hockey establishment, as incarnated by the CBC Sports division, the Globe and Mail, and (God bless him) Don Cherry gears its coverage and its favor mostly towards Canadians. Understandable, of course, and the Canadian media's fawning over Sidney Crosby is justfied because Sidney Crosby is really, really, really good. BUT the little fellow doesn't lead the league in points or in goals, and more to the point: is there anything particularly interesting or glamourous about Sidney Crosby?

Sure, he's a great player and all, but I think I prefer the flashy Russians. Not only are Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Ovechkin powerhouses; they're exciting. Ilya and Alex are, for my money, the two most dynamic players in the league today, and why the NHL marketing folks aren't building a huge press campaign touting them as the Two Czars is beyond me. Crosby is great, but he's boring as a personality, and the only reason he gets more attention than Kovalchuk and Ovechkin is less because the Canadian media gravitates to its own than it hates Russians. Yes, you heard me; I'm accusing the Canadian hockey establishment of anti-Russian, anti-East European racism. If Ilya Kovalchuk had been born in Ontario and named Greg MacDonald, he'd be the biggest star in the NHL. Don't pretend to not know what I'm talking about...

Some of this is just a personal taste, of course. Part of the reason I like Ovechkin and Kovalchuk so much is because I like their flair and exoticism; Sidney Crosby just reminds me of everyone I went to high school with.

Think of the possible slogans that the NHL could use in a marketing onslaught selling Kovalchuk and Ovechkin as the New Russian Faces of the NHL: the Kovy and Ovie Show, the Russian Conquest, Czar Ilya and Czarovitch Alexander (or the other way around, depending on which one has the highest amount of goals at the time), the Double Tsar, the Cossacks, the Rushin' Russians, the Russian Guns, the Moscow Murderers, the Russian Front, and on and on and on...

Like I said, why the NHL doesn't sell Kovy and Alex together is beyond me. I reckon that with Dany Heatley and Sidney Crosby injured they'll get a chance to astonish in the All-Star Game.

Meanwhile, Kovalchuk has gone a few games without scoring a goal or registering a point. It's time he got a few hat tricks, to defend his record from his buddy and put the Thrashers in first (and third) place.

Thrashers on thin ice

Yes, I know, an original metaphor.

As I'm sure you readers know, my beloved Atlanta Thrashers have been having a rough time of it lately. After beating Sidney Crosby and his horde of Penguins in overtime, and after the rapturous win against Detroit, we seemed to fall flat on our face. We took the Montreal Canadiens to overtime, sure, and we really should have beaten them (especially since we've beaten them in overtime everytime we've faced them this season), but, well, we didn't. I won't even talk about the game against Buffalo.

The loss to this year's mediocre Edmonton Oilers illustrates exactly what the Thrashers' general problem is: they get lazy and sloppy when they play a mediocre team that they don't respect. When playing against good teams like the Pitssburgh, Montreal, or Ottawa they have plenty of fight in them, the game against Detroit saw them at their most brilliant. That's what drives me crazy about the Thrashers: they're not just another win-some, lose-some mediocre team like so many in the NHL (the Rangers, the Bruins, the Oilers, etc.); they have the potential to be the great team they were in Detroit but don't put enough work or precision into their games to have steady winning streaks. Nothing I'm saying here is that original, obviously, but so it goes.

That said, we have to win against the New York Rangers tonight. I think it's perfectly possible: the Thrashers are frustrated and desperately want to win anyway, but they feel they have something to prove against the Rangers after they swept them from the playoffs last year. In the Garden, to boot. Perhaps tonight and Thursday the Thrash will have their revenge.

It would be awfully nice to slide into the All-Star weekend with two wins in a row, wouldn't it?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Banner raising

Hello. This is a blog about hockey in general and the Atlanta Thrashers in particular. Disproportionate attention might be given to the hilarious and much-maligned Southeast Division, but my colleagues and I will strive to offer scintillating commentary on the entire NHL. Like I said, we're all Thrashers fans, so Kovalchuk and company will be the primary focus here. I hope you enjoy!

A few stats about myself:

My Top Five Favorite NHL Teams

1. Atlanta Thrashers
2. San Jose Sharks
3. Washington Capitals 
4. Phoenix Coyotes
5. Vancouver Canucks

My Top Five Most Hated NHL Teams
1. Detroit Red Wings
2. New York Rangers
3. Ottawa Senators
4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. New York Islanders (smug Long Island bastards)

Favorite Non-Thrasher NHL Player: Alex Ovechkin/Joe Thornton 

God: Ilya Kovalchuk