The Southeast Division's tighting up. The Washington Capitals managed to climb out of a 2-0 hole to defeat the Ottawa Senators last night, putting them back into first place by a point. Of course, a win by the Thrashers over another Ontario team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, will put Atlanta right back on top. It's been a significant amount of time since there's been a legit battle for first place in the Southeast Division, and it's appropriate that the see-saw continues against two Canadian teams who are having issues - and are well outside the realm of the playoff bubble. The Thrashers would take great pride in knowing that not only is their attendance increasing and their fan-base is getting energized with their recent play, but also in knowing that they could re-take first place in front of a sold-out crowd at the ACC. There's something quietly hilarious in that.
The Thrashers' Nik Antropov played in Toronto for almost eight full seasons before being traded to the New York Rangers, and then signing with the Thrashers as a free agent in 2009. The last time he came to Toronto, he said hello to his old team by scoring a goal and an assist against them. Chances are pretty good that Antropov will not be the only Thrashers scoring against Jonas Gustavsson tonight. While Monster has been playing reasonably well, the Leafs allow 2.94 goals a game, while only scoring 2.19. They've only won one game when they've been held to less than three goals, and that's happened eighteen times already this season.
The Thrashers, obviously, can score and can get that scoring from anywhere. It's a team effort every night. The Maple Leafs, though, experience team frustration every night. Sometimes it seems that only former Thrasher Clarke MacArthur is having a solid season, and the fact that he's their top scorer (9-16-25) either says something about how well he fits in up there, or what an awful season the Leafs are having - or both. The other former Thrasher on the team, Colby Armstrong, is continuing his frustrating play that he exhibited last year in Atlanta. Instead of truculence, the Leafs have gotten a player who is severely under-performing, scoring just one goal and one assist.
Despite the problems, both Armstrong and MacArthur say that they're happy to be in Toronto. While saying anything else might get a waffle thrown at them, both seem firm in their belief that Toronto can eventually turn things around. Said MacArthur about his split with the Thrashers:
"Definitely I was upset (at the outcome of his arbitration process)," he said. "Anyone would be. But it was a decision they made as a team. There’s nothing you can do about it. I was only there 21 games. It was a tough finish (9-13 after March 1) and for that to happen (not re-signing) made it a tough second half.
"They’re obviously off to a great start. They have some new guys in there, changed the coaching staff up. Whatever they did there has sparked the team and we’ll have our hands full with them tomorrow."
He makes a good point - 23 games and getting a too-high price tag on your head for a player that made little impact isn't going to make Thrasher fans nostalgic. Neither is two points and sixteen games played from someone who was more noted for being a cheeseball than an effective hockey player. Thrashers fans could care less about meeting up with these two former Birds. They have their eyes on a bigger prize - a playoff spot and home-ice advantage come April - about the same time that Armstrong, MacArthur, and the rest of the Leafs might very well be shopping for new golf clubs.