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Questionable Special Teams Hurting Atlanta Thrashers' Game-plan

The Thrashers' special teams aren't exactly humming along. Is it hurting the team's ability to control the flow of their games?

A small sample size can do one of two things - it can make small problems seem glaring, or it can be a glimpse of a large issue that needs to be fixed before it gets worse. The Thrashers' anemic penalty kill can go either way. Either it's because they're still learning things, or it's a bigger problem. The team doesn't have the luxury of waiting and seeing, though. Either it gets fixed right now, or the team will have to continue to fight back from deficits to win, or will just lose badly like they did Wednesday night to the Buffalo Sabres.

So far on the season, the Thrashers have been killing penalties at 75% (24 for 31), allowing seven goals. That may not seem like a huge number of goals allowed, but those seven goals have come in six games. Considering that there are 82 games in a season, that comes out to a projection of 95.6 goals allowed. That's 96 GA on the PK that could easily keep the Thrashers out of the playoffs. To put that into perspective, that is 38% of last season's 250 goals allowed. That is a significant amount of goals.

Who has been out on the ice for the goals against? A bigger question should be who hasn't been out there. Zach Bogosian has missed the last three games since being hurt during the game on October 12th against the LA Kings. He was on ice for just one penalty kill goal against: Steve Downie's goal in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Aside from that, he has been perfect.

The problem isn't one that's difficult to fix - clear the crease. Many of the PK goals against have come fairly close to the crease. Having a defender being able to clear the area around the net with his body would limit the opposition's scoring chances. Known for being a big body in front of the opposition's net on the power play, perhaps Dustin Byfuglien would be a wise decision to place there to maintain the goalie's line of sight of the play.

Coach Craig Ramsay had this to say regarding the team's special teams: "We are seeing growth in our power play. Our penalty killing kind of comes and goes a little bit." That is an understatement if applied to the PK. The power play has been more along the lines of "constant" rather than "growing," though a constant goal a game or so will lead to around 75-80 PPG a game. The game at Anaheim, with the team going three for five on the power play, is probably an abnormality, considering two of those three came from Anthony Stewart on a night that he scored a hat trick.

Six games is not enough to judge how a team will finish the year on special teams. There was a good amount of turnover this off-season, both in coaching staff and players, and they're all going to have to learn together. The concern is how quick of studies everyone is.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.