Finally, as the last part of the preview leading up to tomorrow night's home opener against the Washington Capitals (7:30 at Philips - be there!), I'm going to take a quick look at the teams' offense.
With the turn-over of the off-season, the Thrashers added size and grit, emulating more of a Western Conference style of team than a traditional "built on speed" Eastern Conference squad. Adding Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Anthony Stewart, Nigel Dawes, and Fredrik Modin all give the team a bit of an edge in being able to use speed and a bit of a push to crash the net. Size isn't necessarily mandatory, seeing as how Dawes, Bryan Little, and Niclas Bergfors aren't particularly big guys - Nik Antropov dwarfs them - but they have a presence on the ice that flies in the face of their stature. Evander Kane is speed and size in a perfect combination. Kane's beefed up since the end of last season, looking visibly larger even without the uniform on. Gone is the young 18 year old kid of opening night a year ago - in his place is a large and fast second year player who will still be able to skate rings around defenders while intimidating pugilists to not mess with him.
Of course, Slater, Boulton, and Thorburn return to contribute to the penalty kill as well as to act as players that can shut down the opposition's number one line. Eager will be expected to contribute to that as well, making the team's third and fourth lines interchangeable as far as checking lines go. All lines should have the ability to score, but what's notable about the team is the fact that all four lines will be defensively tough to play against. Eastern conference teams have problems with approaching the shut down, shove guys out of the way style of the West, as evidenced by the WC's winning record over Eastern teams last year. This might give Atlanta an edge when it comes against playing teams such as the Capitals and the Penguins, who don't respond well to roughness (especially the Capitals, who don't have anyone to counter with).
As I've looked at before, the Thrashers will have no problem scoring this year - or at the very least they'll have no problem replacing the goals lost in the offseason. Add that to improved defensive responsibility at all ends of the ice, and this years' forwards should be able to carry the team farther than expected.