Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Thrashers are the True Beasts of the Southeast

Way overdue, but possibly just in time (?), I seek to pay homage to the Southeastern Division Champion Atlanta Thrashers. This club rose like a fiery Phoenix from the ashes of a playoff run unfulfilled in 2006, and went on to lead the Southeast Division basically from wire to wire. The Thrash swaggered this season when others vacillated with indecision (CAR), struggled to find their chemistry (TBL), waited for some return, any return, on a bad investment (FLA), or searched fruitlessly for the ideal AHL lineup to compliment one of the league’s premiere stars (WAS).

Almost immediately after the end of the 2006 season, the Thrash put their swagger back on. They never gave up thinking they were destined to be the new boss – a very different boss than any old one in the SE. Where the Carolina Hurricanes won it all in 2006 with team speed, forechecking and discipline, Bob Hartley’s Thrashers established daring offense and old school physicality as the new standard of excellence in the division of champions, the NHL Southeast.

So let’s discuss these key ingredients in Hartley and GM Don Waddell’s strange brew of success, shall we?

Daring Offense:

The big three of Hossa, Kovalchuk and Kozlov flat–out buried pucks, combining for 256 total points this season - a “big three” tally exceeded only by those in Tampa Bay, Ottawa and San Jose. The Thrash enjoyed one of the leagues best winning percentage when behind after one period – a clear sign that they believed in their star and never felt out of a game. Kovlov brought the vision and deft playmaking. Kovalchuk brought the assassin’s touch and Hossa was an unstoppable rhino on the puck. The big three drew attention on every shift and were rarely contained, let alone stopped, on any given night.

Old School Physicality:

Team Blueland also backed a deadly and opportunistic offense with a complete commitment to being badder than a gang of Leroy Browns on defense. Hearken back if you will to that memorable tilt between the Thrash and Washington in our Nation’s Capital from November. More like a Wrestlemania Event gone wrong. The Thrash were in the final stages of drubbing the Craps 4-2. In a clear effort to finalize their monopoly on physical dominance, Andy Sutton laid a nice upper-upper body shot to Mike Green. In the ensuing donnybrook, the Thrash refused to back down either on the ice or in the hallways afterwards. By the end of hostilities, 135 minutes in penalties were given out to the two teams.Bottom line - Exelby, Sutton, Vishnevski, Hnidy and later Zhitnik made opposing forward pay a price when they dared venture into the Thrash defensive zone. They were premiere intimidators who made opposing forwards tentative and fearful for their safety. Safe was as good as dead this season in Blueland.

According to a Cornell University Web site titled, All About Birds :The Thrasher is...

“A large, skulking bird of thickets and hedgerows, the Brown Thrasher has
one ofthe largest song repertoires of any North American bird. An aggressive
defenderof its nest, the Brown Thrasher is known to strike people and dogs hard
enough to draw blood."

I think this pretty much sums up your Atlanta Thrashers – brightly plumed crooners with a nasty streak. Good luck Atlanta Thrashers. You are the new beast of the Southeast. Turn adversity into opportunity tonight. Bring the series, and eventually the Cup, back to the Nasty Nest and your Blueland faithful.

Wager fulfilled.

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