Commentary

Can the Atlanta Thrashers hold on?

Tobias Enstrom is hurt. They're skidding. Ondrej Pavelec has fallen to earth. What now?

Originally Published: February 2, 2011
By Bill Weisbrod | ESPN The Magazine
Getty ImagesAndrew Ladd has been a quality addition for the Thrashers.

On the day the Atlanta Thrashers traded Ilya Kovalchuk last season, they were sixth in the NHL in goals per game, at 2.93. In their remaining 27 games they averaged 2.52 per -- only good enough for 26th in the league during that stretch.

It would stand to reason that Atlanta would struggle to score goals, and to win, in 2010-11. After all, its big offseason additions were two support players from the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run: Dustin Byfuglien, who had shuffled back and forth from checking forward to defense, and Andrew Ladd, a forward who had never scored more than 17 times in a season.

Here's what's funny, though: The Thrashers got out to a 19-11-1 start as of Dec. 20; the early surge was thanks to an unexpectedly potent offense led by Byfuglien and defensive partner Tobias Enstrom.

On Dec. 21, they lost at home to the St. Louis Blues; a slide began, and they won only five times in their next 17 contests. Currently, they'd be in the playoffs -- they're the No. 8 seed as of Feb. 2, one point up on the Carolina Hurricanes.

Ondrej Pavelec had been stellar in goal during the early-season surge. Since Dec. 21, though, the Thrashers are allowing 3.76 goals per game; that's the worst in the NHL during that span. They have a minus-14 goal differential, the worst tally among the 16 teams that would currently qualify for the playoffs.

The question now becomes: Can they hang on?