Welcome to the Game Day Fire Drill, for this, Calgary’s 30th game of the season on Dec. 9, 2009.
One-line teams aren’t typically very difficult to beat. Shut three guys down and shut the whole team down. Easy.
But when the one line is this good, it’s really tough to do that. Ask half the Eastern Conference. The Thrashers, who had a lottery pick last year, signed two Russian guys to play with Ilya Kovalchuk and it was like they threw a lit match into a flash paper factory. The ultra-talented but occasionally petulant left wing went from very good to nigh-unstoppable nearly overnight.
When some combination of Ilya Kovalchuk, Nik Antropov, who signed a pretty decent deal in the offseason, and Max Afinogenov, who actually attended Thrashers training camp as an invitee without a contract, are on the ice together, it’s like the puck jumps flies into the net. I looked it up and those three have combined for 46 points in the less-than-10-percent of Atlanta’s total minutes for which they’ve all been on the ice together (this was hurt, obviously, by Kovalchuk missing six games earlier this year).
But what a pair of pickups Antro and Max were. The latter had 20 points in 48 games last year (a 34.something-point pace!) and already has 11-15-26 in 27 games this year. The former has 23 points in 27 games after scoring 59 between Toronto and the Rangers last year. And the scary part is that the more time they spend with Kovy will only make those numbers look better as the year goes on.
So basically the Flames only have to stop these three guys and they’ll probably win. Of course, that’s so much easier said than done.
The Calgary Flames (18-8-3 for 39 points. Tied for third in the West, second in the Northwest) and the Atlanta Thrashers (15-9-3 for 33 points. Sixth in the East, second in the Southeast).
7:30 p.m. Mountain time and 9:30 p.m. Eastern time. All other time zones should send the best holiday card ever.
Pengrowth Saddledome, Calgary, Alberta.
Calgary is 7-5-0 at home this year, but haven’t played there in close to two weeks. The Thrashers are 9-3-1 on the road, and are 2-0-0 against Western Conference teams on the road, having beaten Detroit and St. Louis in their own buildings.
What (to hate about the Thrashers)
Ilya Kovalchuk — I don’t know if leading science doctors have come up with a word for just how insanely talented this guy is. Before he was injured he was on pace for a 62-goal season. Sixty-two. Think about that. It’s rifunketous (that’s the word I invented to describe how good he is).
Hell, all their Russian players — Nik Antropov, Pavel Kubina, Max Afinogenov, Slava Kozlov. They’re all having good to ridiculous seasons once again this year. I mean, 86 total points and a combined plus-24 not counting Kovalchuk? That’s hardly fair.
Rich Peverley — Mainly because I’m kicking myself for not taking him in one of my fantasy pools. Another near-a-point-a-game season. Christ.
Because it’s time for you to learn that watching mediocre Eastern Conference teams is super-fun. Enjoy the game and watch out for Kovy in the comments section.