I attended last night's game, which Peter recapped here. Here are my impressions:
I'm mad at Bobby Butler, because I had already made a mental note to comment on his shooting ability, and then he scored a beautiful goal and now it looks like I'm just talking about his shot because he scored. I assure you that's not the case. My seats essentially let me look over his shoulder for his goal, so let me see if I can describe it accurately without exaggeration here: He changes the direction of the shot in the act of the release. Butler winds up, and then as the stick is making contact with the puck, he rolls it to the tip and rockets it on a different trajectory than the followthrough would indicate. I have no idea how he did this. Presumably he opened the face of the blade slightly? All of this happens in a fraction of a second. The entire motion took me longer to register than the actual shot took place, if that makes sense.
- I think that should the team re-sign Craig Anderson, whatever salary he receives won't be an overpayment. I guess the highest praise I can give him is that if I were recapping this game, I wouldn't have marked him down as a hero. His positioning was so sound that his saves looked incredibly routine in person. I kept finding myself wondering why the Thrashers were taking such low-percentage shots. In fact, there wasn't a single shot taken the entire night that I felt had a legitimate chance of getting by him. Even on Stapleton's breakaway, Anderson immediately charged out to challenge and then set his feet like he was in a tug-of-war (which I found weird, but, hey, I don't play goal) and there was just nowhere for the shooter to go. I'm not willing to say he was perfect, because I felt like he played a little too far out of his net at times. It looked to me like there were gaps that better passing teams would have been able to exploit after the rebounds, but the Thrashers were clearly not that team last night.
That's not why we can't overpay him, however. He has an absolute command over his own zone. It's really impressive to watch. I've never seen a goalie use their stick for anything except penalty kills and powerplays, but Anderson beats the ice like it's a rented mule. He's also wildly gesturing constantly, which means he will forevermore be nicknamed KoKo to me, but the effect it has on our defensemen is noticeable. They're already confident he's reading the play correctly and as a result, there were very few turnovers in our own end. It also gives him better lanes to see shots. In short, he's providing the leadership that Phillips and Gonchar weren't. I don't know if there was some kind of communication gap before, but it seemed clear that everyone trusts Anderson. If we're really going to be adding Jared Cowen and David Rundblad to our mix next season, paying more than market value for Craig Anderson will make it worth it if only for the effect he'll have on their development. Wow. I really want to see if the defense looks as organized with McElhinney in net. I bet not.
It's like a golf swing, I suppose. Your eye follows the trajectory of the ball based on where your club swing makes it go. If you hit true, you can immediately pick the ball up in flight once to finish your swing. If you hooked or sliced (which I do all the time) it takes you an extra second to locate the ball in flight. Butler's shot was like that. Mason's glove was where the shot should have gone. It was where my eyes told me the puck should have gone. The puck just wasn't there. That's pretty fucking impressive. When he says that he wants to score 30 goals next year, I suddenly find it easy to believe him.
I'm also mad at Jason Spezza, who really just took the first period off. This was the laziest I've ever seen him play in person. He constantly coasted on his backchecking throughout the first. I believe this is what got him on a line with Lessard and Neil for a shift later in the game, but obviously I have no proof as such. He did pick it up as the game's energy picked up, including his backchecking. He also clearly wants to dish the puck to shooters. He's a playmaker, not a scorer.
Speaking of Lessard, I think he's a complete waste of a roster spot. Very frustrating to watch him lug around and get in the way.
I was also not impressed with Marek Svatos or Ryan Potulny. As I said to Peter last night, Potulny will forever be known in my head as "Who the fuck is 21?" after last night. Every time he did something, that was the question I found myself asking. Maybe he just needs more practice time or something. I don't know. I also found it hard to believe that Svatos has played for Cory Clouston before. He seemed only able to skate in a straight line like a bubble hockey figure (Enhance Your Experience indeed), and generated one turnover in the offensive zone for all his work. I felt bad for Ryan Shannon and Erik Condra, who showed obvious chemistry. They could use a different linemate.
Erik Karlsson is struggling. This is pure speculation based on what I saw in person for one game, but in my opinion, the culprit is none other than Filip Kuba. Karlsson obviously has some confidence issues right now -- the way he broke his stick shows he's gripping it way too hard -- and I think those are stemming from his partner. During play without the puck, he did not look confident to me. He was constantly looking around like he was being followed, but it didn't look like he was actively reading the play -- it looked like he wasn't sure where his partner was going to be. He seemed to settle down and play a much more composed game when he was switched to play with Chris Phillips (sorry, Adnan) and once he was calmer, was moved back with Kuba.
I also felt part of his struggle was his attempt to do to much, which is understandable -- he wants to do better. After his stick broke, he was running all over the place in his own end kicking at the puck and generally making things worse for everyone involved. I was screaming at him to just leave the puck alone and let his partner take care of it, but it sure looked like he was overcompensating for a mistake in the other end.
Speaking of moving playes around, I thought Cory Clouston did a very good job coaching tonight. His usual shuffling was limited to mostly defensive pairings this time around (save for Spezza's banishment) at least that I noticed. I hated Derek Smith's play until he was put beside Gonchar.
And speaking of Phillips, I felt that Blake Wheeler very clearly interfered with Anderson on Dustin Byfuglien's goal. I don't know if it was visible on camera or not, but during the replays and celebration, it was Chris Phillips who talked to Bill McCreary about the interference. Greg Kimmerly got an earful as well... from Ryan Shannon.
Nick Foligno seems to have added a move to his repitoire. In addition to "skate all the way around the net, turn and shoot," he now has "poke the puck the opposite way you are heading and then try to dangle your man." I swear he did this over and over last night.
I feel I have been underrating Jesse Winchester, who simply outworked everyone last night.
The atmosphere for the game was terrible. Calling the attendance "sparce" is generous. I mentioned to Peter that it reminded me of that scene in "A League of Their Own" where the players come out to almost no crowd. I almost felt like it wasn't fair to blame the Thrashers for their play. Who would want to try their hardest for such an indifferent crowd?
Phillips Arena is very nice, though. They create a good environment for entertainment, but people need to show up. Whoever's in that Thrash mascot needs to get their chants straight: He'd bang the hell out of the drum, "BANG-BANG-BANGBANGBANG" as in "Let's go Senators!" (which I of course chanted as loudly as I could) and the crowd would chant "Let's go Thrashers!" The correct rhythm for this is "BANG-BANG BANG-BANG." Who doesn't know this?
Overheard in my private suite: "I guess they give you an assist if you shoot the puck?" "I don't know. I think so." This was in regards to the announcement of a scoring change on Foligno's goal, where Gonchar was magically given a second assist. How do you explain that to someone?
And finally, yes, I did find something to boo. During the first intermission, fans were brought on the ice to play dodgeball, four to a side. At one point, the yellow team had one player left to the red team's three. Anyone who's been in a game of dogeball understands how to get the last man out: you shoot at him all at once. Red team kept shooting one at a time, resulting in deflections. I took personal offense to this affront to basic gym class strategy and booed as loudly as I possibly could. I'm proud to say that the few people in the stands nearby joined me, because sometimes bullcrap is something everyone can recognize. Eventually red team ran out of balls to throw. The lone yellow player had to make a throw, which was caught, and the yellow team lost. Ridiculous.
Final notes: The Senators are now 2-0 when I watch them this season, which is much better than their record when I recap. Lifetime they're now 5-3 when I'm in attendance. I really love watching this team play.
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