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Two points are two points, regardless if you’re in first or last place. The Thrashers will take them tonight, as they try to claw back up the slippery standings slope that is the last two and a half weeks of the season.
Chris Mason stopped 14 of 15 shots on goal for the Thrashers’ first regulation win since February 11th. His counterpart Al Montoya played an outstanding game tonight as well, stopping an excellent 32 of 34 Thrashers shots.
The power play ended up with a goal (Rob Schremp’s in the second period), and the penalty kill was a perfect three-for-three after allowing three goals on Saturday night. The entire team’s play was significantly tighter and smarter, which could be their response to a bad game, or it just could be the fact that the Islanders did not play a particularly good game – especially on the power play). Whatever the reason, the gap is down to seven points with nine games to go.
Tomorrow night the outstanding Vancouver Canucks will give the Thrashers a run for their money. Regardless of how well they played tonight, Atlanta is going to have to ramp it up a notch if they want to beat a Stanley Cup favorite.
The Thrashers haven’t been accused of not taking shots on goal as of late, and with the Isles’ generally porous defense, they’ve gotten a game’s worth in just two periods.
Speaking of porous defense, John Tavares was allowed to camp out next to the Thrashers’ goal, waiting for a rebound. The Thrashers have had issues in clearing the crease off and on all season, and this was a good example of why – no one was willing to shove Tavares or at least screen him – they stayed in the safe area in front of the net. He got one with Mason far out in front at 1:38 of the second period. Chris Mason has only seen seven shots, with four coming in the second period.
Rob Schremp scored against his former team by deflecting a shot in off of Al Montoya’s pads. Montoya was too far into the net, and when he went down in the butterfly it caught the puck and flipped it up behind him into his own goal. Regardless of how it happened, the power play netted a goal, and Schremp was congratulated by his current team for showing his old one what-for.
If the Thrashers keep up the pressure and choose their shooting locations more carefully, they might be able to get one more past Montoya. To his credit, the Islanders’ goaltender has been excellent tonight. Dealing with 28 shots over just two periods is some tough work, and he has another period to go.
In what could be seen as a major turn-around from Saturday night, the Thrashers played an extremely solid period for a road game. They didn’t necessarily control the puck the entire time, but they were effective at clearing the zone, and weren’t scared to go where they needed to go to prevent the Islanders from getting looks at the net. Chris Mason hasn’t been particularly active so far, having to face only three shots the whole period. The Islanders didn’t get a shot off on their power play, after Anthony Stewart got called for delay of game.
Captain Andrew Ladd scored his 27th goal at 7:56 into the period, flicking one into the net past Islanders goalie Al Montoya. The Thrashers fired twelve shots on goal, despite not having gone on the power play. The Islanders’ defense isn’t really effective at clearing pucks, and it’s showing in this game so far.
Chris Vivlamore has a few line-up tweaks in his latest blog. Coach Craig Ramsay has moved Rob Schremp to center for tonight. Schremp is, by trade, a centerman, and Ramsay would like to see what he can do there. Eric Boulton is out tonight to rest some facial lacerations after he was hit with a puck in last Saturday’s game. Ben Maxwell will get his third start so far with the Thrashers.
Interestingly enough, Chris Mason is getting tonight’s start against the Islanders, while Ondrej Pavelec will be playing Vancouver tomorrow night. The last time the Thrashers were in New York, Mason allowed four goals in a wild 5-4 Thrashers win that very nearly got away from them. Pavs, however, is 1-1 against the Isles this season and has a 2.48 GAA and a .919 save percentage.
I would have expected Mason to start against Vancouver, a team that he is very familiar with, rather than the Islanders.
"We didn’t really compete. It shows up when players are trying to get out of the way of a shot rather than into the way a shot. That kind of says it all. It was extremely disappointing to watch that. We had a whole bunch of guys feeling sorry for themselves and looking around trying to find someone else to blame instead of looking at themselves and taking charge."
The Thrashers looked poised to close the four point gap that at that time separated them from Buffalo. They had gone 4-1-1 in their past six games and were playing significantly better hockey. It was almost as though they knew what was on the line.
And then once they fully realized that, they panicked.
A predominantly young team does that sometimes when pressure gets to them, and that is what the Thrashers are - a young team with a few vets thrown in to temper the mix. The problem on Saturday is that the seasoned players also stood by and were active observers in the most demoralizing defeat of the season. That game is in the past, though, and the team has to move forward with the last ten games of the season.
One player who has something to prove is Rob Schremp. Schremp, claimed on the trade deadline after being put on waivers by the Islanders, will be facing his former team for the first time. He has one goal since joining the Thrashers, but got a chance to show his stuff a week ago in a shootout against the Flyers. Schremp doesn't hold a grudge against his old team, though. As he told the AJC's Chris Vivlamore:
"There are no hard feelings. It’s part of hockey. There are a lot of guys there they are re-signing and I don’t think I was in the picture. I don’t have any hard feelings. I understand what the game is like. I appreciate what they did for me as far as giving me a chance."
There better be some hard feelings by the rest of the Thrashers, and those need to be directed at themselves if they want to play well tonight. An Islanders win will put New York in a three-way tie for eleventh place in the conference; something that Atlanta doesn't want or need. Since the All-star break, the two teams have been playing their way in very opposite directions. The Islanders have been playing good hockey as of late, and their young team is showing that they might be a bit more trouble next season.
The Islanders' team philosophy's a bit different than the Thrashers' right now. Says Frans Neilsen:
"We go out and we compete hard for 60 minutes and try to have fun," Nielsen said. "Everybody is chipping in for the team right now."
One team having fun, and one team gripping their sticks too hard. Welcome to the increased expectations of the final stretch of the season - Atlanta's putting too much on themselves, and the Islanders have nothing to lose.