K and I went with her parents and E to the Atlanta Thrashers opening night game tonight (last night by the time any of you read this). Last year was an incredibly frustrating season to be an Atlanta hockey fan. Just one season after making the playoffs for the first time in the team's short history, the Thrashers collapsed into a pile of dung. Six games into the season, the team hadn't won a game and they fired a coach who had helmed multiple Stanley Cup winning teams and taken the Thrashers to their first playoff appearance. The GM donned the suit and paced behind the bench for the rest of the season and I honestly started to lose interest around the end of February because the losing was too hard to take. They'd managed to look OK and even have a winning record by mid February, but during the last month of the season, they wilted and ended only winning five games of their last 22.
Actually, last year was a rough year in Atlanta sports all the way around. Braves fans were still getting used to the fact that Atlanta was no longer guaranteed to play professional baseball in October, having ended their record-long streak of playoff appearances the year before. More importantly, the Falcons were dreadful. That was the worst team Atlanta had fielded in the NFL in at least a decade. Thank god they're looking good again this year. I'm not sure I could have taken another season like that. With an NFL team, I'm willing to sit through a .500 season, especially with a young team like we have this year, and the Dirty Birds are actually looking to be on par for a winning season this year. Sitting through a .250 season is much harder, especially when your fourth win comes at the end of the season after a six-game losing streak against a team benching its starters because it already has its playoff spot sewn up. The only bright spot was with the Hawks, who, despite a losing record in the regular season, managed to play their way into the NBA playoffs and force the Boston Celtics to play all seven games of the series to finally squeak past the Atlanta on their way to a league championship.
But that really doesn't help. I know more Thrashers fans in Georgia than I do Hawks fans. I'm honestly not sure the average Georgian even knows we have a team in the NBA. The Hawks' history makes the Falcons look like a pro-sports power house.
Anyway, last night's game was awesome. After about eight minutes of the Thrashers not looking like they'd improved any over the summer, the team clicked for the rest of the first period, scoring three goals in quick succession before giving up a goal late in the period to Washington. These weren't just fluke goals either. All were the product of aggressive and coordinated play up near the net.
The second period got away from the Thrashers a little. Atlanta did manage a goal during the second period, but it was lost among three goals from the Capitals, leaving the game tied 4-4 at the end of the second. In a matter of 10 minutes, the game had gone from looking like a sure thing (it's a rare day when you score four goals in a hockey game and lose) into looking like the momentum had shifted and the Thrashers were going to spend another season in futility.
That is, until the 14th minute of the third period when the Thrashers scored two goals within 30 seconds of each other and put the cherry on top of their Sunday a minute and a half later with a seventh goal to end the game with a final score of 7-4. It was obviously an incredibly exciting game, but it did leave me with a little bit of a worry for this season. That was a great offensive performance by the Thrashers, but it's against a team that, despite being pegged as a playoff contender this season, is known for having a troubled defense. Also, what's plagued the Thrashers for the past two seasons (at least) has been their inability to prevent the other team from taking shots on goal. The ratio of shots on goal taken versus shots on goal allowed in the past couple of seasons has been atrocious. Even with last night's solid win, the Capitals took 12 more shots on goal than the Thrashers. That's not a good sign. Lehtonen did a pretty good job making saves last night, but you can only take so many shots on goal as a goalie before you break. Hopefully the new coach will make this inequity of SOG a rarity this season. That would be nice.
I'm really not sure what I'll do if Georgia Tech, the Falcons, and the Thrashers all have good seasons this year. It's never happened before.