A lot has been said about how beneficial this month's schedule has should be to the Thrashers. The team only has four away games, with the other eleven being played at home. Traditionally, a team's home ice is its fortress, ready for defending. With the Thrashers, though, the mostly empty Philips arena hasn't been the site of many spirited battles. There's no coincidence that they were shut out 3-0 by the Columbus Blue Jackets last Thursday and then played one of their best games of the season in the 5-4 overtime loss to Chicago. Teams feed off of emotion, and there was a lot more going on when the Thrashers wanted to clam up the Blackhawks fans than when they were playing to a team record low crowd. Columbus fans couldn't even be bothered to show up on Thursday.
The Thrashers are 2-3-1 on home ice, with the lone wins coming opening night against the Washington Capitals, and on October 29th against the Buffalo Sabres. This isn't a terrible record, but it's not one that strikes fear into the hearts of teams coming into Blueland. This week'll be rough, because the Minnesota Wild and the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to take advantage of that.
First off, though, the Thrashers have to go to Ottawa to deal with the Senators. Considering the current state of the team, (7-6-1, 7th in the East) compared with their 1 and 4 start, Ottawa fans should be thrilled. But any season short of a playoff finish bothers the fans from Canada's capital, and there isn't a lot of faith in that right now. The Thrashers (6-5-3) have the exact same number of points in the same number of games as the Senators. It'll be an even match-up, but without Ilya Kovalchuk (who treated the Sens' goalies like his own personal punching bags) it might be difficult. The Thrashers blew the Senators out of the water several games last season; that might not happen on Tuesday.
The Thrashers then come home and rest for a day before taking on the 6th place Minnesota Wild. The Wild (7-4-2, 16 pts) are doing a bit better than the Thrashers are points wise, but are only scoring 2.46 goals a game to the Thrashers' 3.07. Of course, they also only allow 2.15 goals a game, while the Thrashers have allowed fewer than 3 goals just once all season in their 4-2 defeat of the Sharks. Even a notorious snooze fest team like the Wild have a chance at lighting it up and handing the Thrashers another home loss at Philips.
Another night off, and then the Thrashers start the first of two back to back games. Saturday night they'll be beating back invading Penguins fans in Atlanta as Sidney Crosby comes to town. The Pens aren't the offensive juggernaut that some expect them to be, with their inability to find a winger for Crosby. They're also having issues with their starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. MAF has won only one game this season, and has lost the confidence of their fans and possibly their dresser room. His 3.55 GAA and .853 SV& is absolutely terrible. The Thrashers need to hope that they decide to start Fleury that night, because the Pens' back-up goaltender is red hot. Brent Johnson is 6-1-1, with a 1.63 GAA and a .943 SV%. Johnson's one of the top goalies in the league, but the Penguins will be playing Atlanta in the second half of a back-to-back with Tampa Bay, so the Thrashers might get lucky and wind up with Fleury in net.
To wrap up the packed week, the Thrashers turn around on Sunday afternoon and play the Washington Capitals. The Thrashers are 1-0-1 against the Caps this season so far. Both teams have been predictably high scoring affairs, and the Southeast Division leaders are usually like playing against a firing squad. Neither Thrashers' goaltender has a good record or good stats against DC, but again, maybe the Thrashers can benefit from the Caps' playing them the afternoon after playing the Sabres in Buffalo.
This month's schedule is packed, and just as hard as October was. If Atlanta can work their way out of November with a winning record, than that should give fans something to believe in. If it's not one, though, fans shouldn't be too surprised - this month's a killer.