Thrashers Beef Up At Defense, But Will They Score?

There's no denying that the Thrashers' have one of the most solid bluelines in the Eastern Conference, but how far will that get them with questions up front?

If there had been one consistent complaint regarding the Thrashers that carried over between the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, it was that the defense was porous, and the goals allowed a game was entirely too high. The Thrashers averaged 3.05 goals against a game last season (25th in the league), and the year before that it was a hefty 3.40 (29th). The improvement with the addition of Pavel Kubina to the blueline was noticeable, as was the addition of Johnny Oduya and the pairings of each with Tobias Enstrom and Ron Hainsey, respectively. There's no denying that there was an increase in defense between the two years - it's amazing what happens when you add solid blueliners while developing talented youth - but 25th overall in the league will not help get you into the playoffs. It helped the Thrashers flirt with the notion of returning last year, but it didn't get them in.

A healthy Bogosian, coupled with the returns of Oduya, Enstrom, and Hainsey, should look to at least maintain the status quo on the blueline. The additions of Brent Sopel and Dustin Byfuglien, as well as the assumed return of Boris Valabik as the 7th man, add size and intimidation. Byfuglien was a -7 last year, but that season saw him split between the blueline and the third line, while Sopel was a responsible +3. The GA a game might drop to around three or slightly less than that this season.

Defense is not going to be the issue for the Thrashers this season, nor is goaltending. Intimidation is also not going to be a problem, with the Thrashers assembling a Western Conference style squad that is heavy on the grit from the second-line down. No one is saying that the Thrashers are going to be an easy team to play against - in fact, they should be able to break up the finesse fuled rushes of Eastern Conference teams easily. The trick is, there aren't very many 1-0 or 2-1 games to be won in either conference.  To win, you have to score goals - it's as simple as that. Will the Thrashers be able to pull that off?

Last season the Thrashers scored 2.80 goals a game, good for twelfth in the league. Finishing over .500 with a goal differential of -.25 is a feat, but it should tell even a casual fan exactly why the team missed the playoffs.  Their G/G actually dropped off from the 3.05 of the season before, but the team's (slightly) improved record between the two years should be able to demonstrate that even though the dropoff in production was a problem, the increased responsibility on the blueline helped.  But the fact that the team's record didn't improve that much between the two years also shows that offense is what gets a team over that hump.

The Thrashers lost Maxim Afinogenov over this off-season, and with him lost twenty four goals (though they did lose someone who was -17 as well). Other forwards departing along with Max were Colby Armstrong (15G), Slava Kozlov (8), Todd White (7), Evgeny Artyukhin (5), and Clarke MacArthur (3). Not including Kovalchuk's 31 goals, the Thrashers lost sixty two goals from the tally-sheet. The only plus player lost was Armstrong at a +6, so the combined +/- lost was a -39.

Added this off season were Dustin Byfuglien (17G, -17), Andrew Ladd (17G, +2), Ben Eager (7G, +9), Fredrik Modin (5G, -8), and Nigel Dawes (14G, +1). None of these guys are top line players, admittedly. When you compare their goal totals to the totals of those lost, as well as the +/- of the players lost, though, a new perspective to the "the Thrashers won't score!" lament pops up.  The team lost sixty two goals, and replaced them with sixty.  The team also lost that combined -39 and added a combined -13.

The players the Thrashers added are slightly more offensively capable than all that were lost save for Afinogenov - if you remove Max from the equation, the five other players gone scored 38 goals and were a -26. That means that the Thrashers added 24 goals and improved the +/-  by 13 in the five players added versus the five players lost.  Those off-season acquisitions don't look too bad now, do they?

Honestly, the only thing that the Thrashers were short doing this off-season was replacing that top six talent lost with another top six player. While that might be an issue, it won't lead to a massive drop off in goals scored for this season. The Thrashers are a top six guy away from being a statistically better team than the team last season, and there's still time left before the pre-season. Does that mean that Dudley will add that top six player before then? Possibly not, but the Thrashers' aren't worse for wear as far as scoring goes. With the improved defense as well as the improved defensive capabilities of the forwards, the GA should drop while the GF should stay the same, which theoretically should mean that the Thrash could add a few more wins to their totals from last season... and they were just a few wins out of the playoffs in 2010.

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