The Thrashers open the 2009-10 season Saturday. Here are some things to look for this season:
The Thrashers' potential firepower is their biggest strength. With three lines capable of scoring, they could better last season's productivity, when they finished ninth in the NHL with 3.05 goals per game. The additions of Nik Antropov, who will center Ilya Kovalchuk’s line, and Max Afinogenov can only help.
“We’re pretty confident scoring is going to be our forte,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said.
*They will be successful: If Kovalchuk and Bryan Little surpass last season’s production with Antropov. The third line of Evander Kane, Marty Reasoner and Colby Armstrong/Rich Peverley contribute as much as expected.
*They will struggle: If Kovalchuk’s contract situation lingers well into the season, and approaches the trade deadline, there could be cause for concern.
Easily, the Achilles’ heal of the Thrashers last season. They finished 29th -- second to last --– in the league with a 3.40 goals-against average. The addition of Pavel Kubina gives the Thrashers a solid top-four group, perhaps the best in franchise history.
“We have to think defense first, especially in our zone,” Anderson said.
*They will be successful: If they stay healthy, especially the top two pairings of Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey and Kubina.
*They will struggle: If the final defensive pairing, which will consist of several players -- Mark Popovic, Boris Valabik, Anssi Salmela and the newly acquired Christoph Schubert -- produce too big of a dropoff.
The Thrashers enter the season with Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg in goal. Kari Lehtonen’s return from offseason back surgery is several weeks away. For now Pavelec, with 19 games of NHL experience, and Hedberg will handle the load.
*They will be successful: If Pavelec holds up through the early part of the season. Hedberg is capable of stepping in, but it appears the Thrashers are banking on Pavelec, at least in the short term.
*They will struggle: If Pavelec struggles, especially early in the season, with five of the first six games on the road. The franchise does not want a start similar to the poor ones they had the past two seasons.
They were the good and the bad for the Thrashers last season. The power play ranked 11th in the league with a 19.3 success rate. The penalty kill was a huge problem. They ranked 29th in the league with a 76 percent success rate.
“Our mentality is different this year,” Reasoner said. “We are focusing on shoring up what we are trying to accomplish and what our identity will be. Last year we let things go for a little too long.”
*They will be successful: If the big bodies -- namely Antropov and Kubina -- are major factors.
*They will struggle: If they take too many penalties, especially in their own zone. It’s what drives Anderson crazy.
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