The Atlanta Thrashers truly have a chance to make theatre in this season’s final stretch.
After Thursday night’s 6-3 victory over the struggling New York Islanders, the Thrashers now find themselves in the 8th seed of the Eastern playoff bracket.
Make sure you get this straight: They are in the 8th seed. Where were they when they last had Ilya Kovalchuk on their roster? 11th. Yes, that is correct. I’m telling you that the Thrashers have usurped the expectations of many and improved their position even without the highly-touted Russian superstar. They are 4-1-2 since sending the Captain away, and that one regulation loss came against an insane Capitals team that was in the midst of what would become a 13 game winning streak.
Of course, none of the wins have been flashy and not many plays have been worthy of Sportscenter’s Top 10. Nothing can erase the fact that the team is without a face. The team is now working on a by-committee basis. Everybody has to chip in. Everybody has to play smart, basic, gritty hockey to manufacture some wins. Let’s take a look at some of the players that are leading this charge in the post Kovalchuk era.
Nik Antropov: Big Nik’s got 11 points in his past 6 contests and has been crucial in helping the Thrashers attain success in the absence of Ilya Kovalchuk. That’s a torrid pace for the Thrashers #1 center. He leads the team with a +19 rating and also leads the team in assists with 36 and total points with 53. Antropov is leading by example, which is what this team needs more than ever.
Niclas Bergfors: Just call him The New Kid. Acquired in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade, this 21 year old is already proving to Atlanta that Don Waddell made a good trade. He’s got 4 goals and 2 assists in his first 7 games as a Thrasher, and two of his goals were crucial game winners against Florida and Minnesota. Bergfors may be young and inexperienced, but words cannot describe how important he is for the team. It is a big statement when the trade that sees the “franchise player” leave brings back a guy who can step up to the plate immediately.
Bryan Little: Little has not performed up to expectations this season. He had a 31-goal campaign last year, but as of right now he’s only got 10. However, like Bergfors, he’s got 6 points in his past 7 and seems to be heating up. His play down the stretch will play a large role in determining the team’s final position in the standings.
Evander Kane: You can go ahead and consider this 18-year old rookie the Thrashers most prized possession. His play of late has been inspired and intimidating. He had a couple of freight-train hits against the Islanders thursday and made several nice rushes to the net. Kane has been a very important spark-plug for linemates Jimmy Slater and Colby Armstrong, and the three have been a solid line for coach John Anderson to depend on. Kane is a future leader.
Congrats to the new guys: Evegeny Artyukhin and Clarke MacArthur both scored their first goals in Thrashers uniforms on Thursday. Both players were acquired via trade shortly before the trade deadline. MacArthur scored a nice goal from the slot that was a result of smart skating and good positioning. Artyukhin (who is 6 foot 5, 250 pounds!) made a quick rush up the ice, powered around two defenseman and jammed the puck past Islanders goalie Marty Biron.
It says something about a locker room when all of your newest players can step in and make an immediate difference.
The Thrashers will play again this Saturday as Tampa Bay plays host in a crucial Southeastern Division matchup. The team will return home for a 5pm contest against Carolina on Sunday.
About the Author
Written by Kevin Thurston