The Atlanta Thrashers currently are parked a generous five points out of playoff contention, thanks to a failure of only tiny proportions in Buffalo on Wednesday night. Just a matter of moments separated the Thrashers from a game they could have taken - and a 9th place all their own - and being well out of the playoff picture. They chose the latter. If they would have chosen the former - as well as could have maintained leads in both Phoenix and Edmonton, they would be back in a playoff spot. Ah, how quickly things can change - and things still can, if they put their minds to it.
Tonight is Blueland's first chance to see Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart in action; it's also a night to see Jim Slater, Freddy Meyer, Patrice Cormier, Fredrik Modin, and Alexander Burmistrov - in the press box. They're all hurt, so the offense is depending on the likes of Tim Stapleton and Patrick Rissmiller to supply offensive firepower that is so painfully missing from this team. Once one of the top in the league, the Thrashers' goals-for a game has dropped to 2.80. Captain Andrew Ladd seems to be on a one-man quest to fix this, scoring five goals in the past four games to lead the team with twenty-two.
Atlanta's goals for has shot up to an even worse than last season's 3.20. In their last eight losses, the Thrashers have allowed less than four goals only once, and out of all nine games in February, have only allowed fewer than four goals twice. The highly suspect PK is part of the problem; the team's second to last with 76.3% effectiveness. If something could have been done to shore up the PK a long time ago - aside from miraculously healing Jim Slater's concussion - this team's season could be more salvageable than it is now.
Ondrej Pavelec might be going through an atrocious stretch, going 3-9-4 in his last 16 starts, but he's usually solid against the Panthers. Pavs is 4-1-0 in his last five starts against the Panthers, with a 1.98 GAA.
Tonight's five game homestand is extremely important for the Thrashers in terms of points, and they tend to feed off of decent sized crowds. Thankfully three of those games are weekend games, but the homestand begins and ends with the Florida Panthers. Hopefully their playoff hopes won't as well.