Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Their West was Wilder than Ours

The 4-2 defeat at the hands of Minnesota tonight was tough to take, but isn't nearly a harbinger of doom. Thanks to the OTL format, Atlanta is still not below .500, and if they continue to build on the positives they displayed tonight, they may not fall below that line this season at all.

The defense was steady overall with scattered bouts of heroism and total breakdowns. Tobi Keith Enstrom picked up his game noticably from opening night, and his partner in Swedeishness, Niclas Havelid made a great save after the Wild poked one behind Kari. Schneider performed very well with Nathan Oystrik, continuing his mentoring role, but was plagued by penalties that I don't think he actually committed.

Oystrik had a solid game until he made the gaff that he will probably remember for the rest of his career, just because it tarnishes his first regular season NHL game. Trying to keep the puck in the offensive zone so the team could generate some offense to tie the game, Oystrik fell down as the puck was poked past him, leading to a breakaway that sealed the deal in Minnesota's favor. It could have happened to anybody, and it's unfortunate that it happened to this promising kid in his first start. Hopefully he'll put it behind him and come out solid in his next chance.

Bryan Little continues to impress, and played with more confidence now that he has less responsibility at wing rather than center. The Czar's first goal of the season came off a beautiful behind the back pass from Little, that was practically one-timed on the backhand as a tic-tac-toe from Hainsey to Little to Kovy. Absolutely a thing of beauty. Little added a goal of his own, finally capitalizing on the plan of streaking to the net to meet a pass from the side boards. The team was obviously trying for that several times tonight and it paid off on Little's tally.

Kari will probably get lambasted in the message boards (as will Oystrik) over tonight's game, but it's not deserved. Kari made the saves that he should have made and several that he shouldn't have. He was beat on a nice breakaway move and was beat on separate two-on-one situations in which his defenseman should have taken the pass and didn't. The first goal was a powerplay marker that was also the result of some impressive passing leading to some wide open twine.

In all, the Thrashers seem to be picking up Anderson's system and running with it, but need a little more time with it before it's truly reliable against a good defensive team. And that's exactly what they were up against tonight. The Wild play team defense so well that it feels like they have seven skaters on the ice clogging every shooting, passing, and skating lane that was just open a split second ago. With Backstrom providing reliable goaltending and that team defense making up for a lack of scoring depth, the Wild look a lot like the Devils teams that won three cups in nine years.

Fortunately, those aren't the same Devils that will be rolling into Philips Arena this Thursday night. They have a lot of the same names as those old teams, but a lot more gray hairs and a lot fewer goals for. Here's to hoping the birds can keep Brodeur shy of Saint Patrick's record a little longer.

For the Chronicle, I'm Razor Catch Prey.