The Thrashers got their first win in regulation since December 20th by holding on against the Florida Panthers. The Panthers got chippy and frustrated, with Allen elbowing Fredrik Modin in the head (no call) and Shawn Matthias boarding Patrice Cormier which resulted on a five minute powerplay for the Thrashers. Unfortunately, the Thrashers couldn’t convert on the PP, and the Panthers pulled within one on a Chris Higgins goal. Higgins has been playing very well recently; this was his 8th goal of the season and his third goal in three games.
The Thrashers managed to hold off a Panther onslaught at the end of the period. The Tampa Bay Lightning got drubbed 8-1 tonight, so the Thrashers are now three points behind them and two point behind the Washington Capitals, and are still in 6th place in the Eastern Conference. The next game is Friday night at Philips Arena against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The puck drop is at 7:30.
Rich Peverley is one goal away from his first career hat trick (and almost netted it on a showthanded break-away) after two periods. Peverley’s goal that beat Tomas Vokoun glove side at 6:27 was oddly the straw that broke the camel’s back for Panthers coach Peter DeBoer. Tomas Vokoun was pulled in favor of back up goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who is on a three game winning streak of his own, but who has only won one game against the Thrashers. Clemmensen robbed Peverley who, shorthanded, got a break away in on the goaltender. Clemmer extended the glove and stopped Peverley’s attempt.
The penalty carousel continues, with Atlanta and Florida each taking two more. Florida’s anemic 9% effective powerplay continued its trend, not scoring on either chance.
In what started out as a bit of a dull game in front of a sparse crowd in Sunrise, Florida, the Thrashers and Panthers have picked up the pace. Combining for three goals in the first period, both teams seem to be determined to make the game as exciting as possible, crowd be damned.
Niclas Bergfors opened the scoring at 12:52 on a feed from Andrew Ladd for his 8th of the year. He took possession on a near off-sides by Florida, passed the puck to Ladd in moving into the Florida zone, and then received the set up pass back from Ladd. He shot the puck from at the right faceoff dot, beating Tomas Vokoun glove side. The puck bounced off the post and directly into the net.
A minute and a half later, Stephen Weiss scored to tie the game on a cross-crease pass from Chris Higgins. There was a scare a few minutes prior with Dustin Byfuglien, who awkwardly fell into the boards, striking his right knee in the process. He returned to the game just before Weiss’ goal.
The Florida Panthers are the least penalized team in the NHL, but there was something about the Thrashers tonight that seemed to encourage Florida to get the whistle. At 16:04, Bryan Allen got the whistle for delay of game, which the Panthers killed off. At 18:34 Dmitry Kulikov got whistled for interference on Patrice Cormier and then just twenty-five seconds later Jason Garrison got called for high sticking to Rich Peverley’s head. If you hit Peverley in the head, he apparently will hit the puck in your net. Peverley scored at 19:29 of the period on the first powerplay by taking the puck to the net and getting his own rebound off of Vokoun’s pad. Tenacity gets rewarded in the form of Peverley’s 10th goal of the season – the sixth Thrasher to hit that mark.
The Thrashers aren't exactly riding high right now, despite winning 4-3 in Montreal on Sunday. Their recent record (4-4-2) doesn't reflect the fact that they haven't won a game in regulation since their 6-3 defeat of Toronto on December 20th. They've been getting the scoring, they've been getting the goaltending, but they just haven't been able to convert those two things to wins. They've had to fight a lot more to walk away with a victory, thanks to a December that left them depleted of energy and left center Jim Slater on the disabled list. That necessitated a bit of line-tweaking to include call-ups Tim Stapleton and Patrice Cormier. From the Blueland Blog, here were the lines for Sunday and the probable lines for tonight:
Niclas Bergfors playing on the fourth line with Eric Boulton and Cormier still managed to get him an assist on Andrew Ladd's second period goal on Sunday. Bergfors is 8th on the team in scoring with 20 points, despite only playing 31 games this semester. He's sat out 11 games as a healthy scratch but tends to pick it up a notch when he's re-inserted back into the line-up.
Dustin Byfuglien's been on fire recently, scoring yet another overtime game winning goal on Sunday. So far, Buff has scored six game winners, three of which have come in overtime. The Thrashers have six overtime goals, and Byfuglien has scored half of those. He's an impact player for sure. He has a goal in the other three games that the Panthers and Thrashers have met, which isn't surprising - he leads all NHL defensemen with sixteen.
The Thrashers have scored 129 more points on the season than the Panthers have, though the most glaring instance comes during the powerplay. The Thrashers' powerplay, which is ranked 8th in the league (21.3%), has netted 33 goals so far. Despite dropping off recently, it is still lethal. The Panthers' powerplay has scored just 12 times and is the worst in the league at a tiny 9.4%.
Ondrej Pavelec has been in net for one of the three games against Florida, in which the Thrashers lost, 2-1. Pavs has gone 13-4-2 since then. He'll probably be facing off against goaltender Tomas Vokoun tonight, who has had several outstanding seasons with the Panthers despite the team's best effort to do otherwise.
Vokoun's five shutouts are impressive, and he's helped Florida get one game over .500 and into 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Florida's not an easy team to beat, and don't need to be written off. They might not score a ton of goals (they have three players with more than ten goals as opposed to Atlanta's five with Peverley on the edge of ten), but their goaltending is more than solid enough to backstop them to a win.