Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bruins vs. Thrashers: Stuff To Look Out For

The Bruins' easy December schedule continues tonight in Atlanta, in the first game of a home-and-home with the Thrashers. I don't like to write off any team, least of all one with a player as explosive as Kovalchuk... but let's be honest, the Bruins should be shooting for 4 points this weekend. Otherwise we'll get to April Fool's Day and kick ourselves for being 1 point behind some schmuck team like the Pens.

Stuff to watch tonight:

Goaltending rotation: It's a safe bet that Tim Thomas will start this game. He and Manny Fernandez are back on an alternating schedule, and will probably stay that way until one of them cracks. On the other end, it's tough to say who will start -- Johan Hedberg is the "starter" but has a vomit-inducing GAA of 3.55. To his credit, his past 2 games against the New York teams looked much better: 1.50, 95% saves.

Early decision: The Thrashers have been involved in only one shootout this season, a win on October 18th.

Obscure but good: Everyone knows that Ilya Kovalchuk is being wasted on this team, but there are other quality players on the Thrashers roster who get virtually no recognition leaguewide. Toby Enstrom is one of the better young defensemen in the conference, and will have a large role in any future successes in Atlanta. Bryan Little is a promising 21-year-old from Edmonton on pace for a 40-goal season. And... yeah, that's about it.

Kovie watch: Kovalchuk isn't exactly known for being a gritty player -- in fact, he rather sucks at defense -- but he has been playing with some extra snarl lately. Perhaps it's frustration, perhaps it's showcasing to get the hell out of Atlanta. In any case, he remains one of the league's most dynamic goal scorers, so pissing him off is not a good idea. Furthermore, rather than lose him for 2 or 5 minutes, the Thrashers would be wise to protect him with some muscle... which leads me to...

Goon watch: Atlanta's enforcer is Eric Boulton. He's close to my heart because I remember seeing him rack up 325 PIM in only 44 games in Charlotte a decade ago. I mean, this guy fought in literally every game and frequently more than once per game. Crazy and fearless. The Bruins don't fight a lot, so it might not come to anything, but a bout between Boulton and Shawn Thornton would be an instant middleweight classic.

On the forecheck: This game will probably boil down to good forward pressure by the Bruins. Atlanta has a pretty weak defensive corps, and no elite puck-mover, and therefore spend quite a lot of time in their own zone. If the Bruins forecheck aggressively, they should be able to cause turnovers and use their skill to score early and often. Then again, they played a pretty solid game against the Caps and simply couldn't beat the goalie. That's why they play 'em.

Other previews:
No other previews up yet, but you can check the links to the right side of the screen to see them as they roll in.

Thrashers blogs:
The Thrashers have a surprisingly strong blogosphere following, for a struggling team in a so-called non-hockey market (pfft.). I am guessing that at least a few of these will offer previews.
Thrashers 411
Blueland Chronicle
Firewagon Hockey
Blueland Outsider
I have no idea if Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons? is planning to do a preview, but his last one was pretty good and it gives you a ton of insight into the inner workings of the Thrashers roster.

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