Thrashers try to close a lopsided shot deficit

BY foxsports • December 21, 2009

It's one glaring mark on the Thrashers' season.

The team that is among the NHL leaders in several statistical categories is dead last in one — shots on goal allowed.

The Thrashers are giving up a league-worst 34.9 shots per game. They have been outshot in 26 of their 34 games by an average margin of 11 shots in those contests. In 13 of the 26 games, the margin has been in double-digits.

"That's a bad stat to be at the worst end of," Thrashers defenseman Ron Hainsey said Sunday.

In the past four games, the Thrashers have given up 42, 47, 29 and 48 shots.

"It's too much, no question," Thrashers coach John Anderson said.

Which begs two questions. What's the matter? What do they do about it?

As he has said time and time again, Anderson re-stated that his team is selective in the shots it takes, opting to pass to set up a better scoring chance. Another team, say Saturday's opponent New Jersey, tends to put shots on goal from all angles.

"If you see some of the shots that [opponents] are taking, there are some shots that I wouldn't want our guys to take because the goalie gets it and moves it," Anderson said. "Other teams have a different philosophy. They are going to put the puck on net and go after it. What's right and what's wrong? It's a philosophy."

That's one consideration, but there are others. Most are defensive lapses.

"Defensively, we can do much better," Ilya Kovalchuk said. "We score enough goals, but defensively we give up too many, myself included. The last goal [against New Jersey], I didn't see the guy, but I have to know he's back there."

Kovalchuk was referring to the game-winner in the Devils' 5-4 win Saturday night, a game in which the Thrashers were out-shot 42-26. Dean McAmmond, who entered the game with one goal and finished with three, stepped inside the blue line and whipped a shot on goal from 55 feet away, beating a screened goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.

Atlanta goaltending has been a big reason the team is 18-13-3 and in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Johan Hedberg is tied for fourth in the NHL in save percentage (.927).

Other issues, according to Hainsey, are:

All five players on the ice need to be on the same page. "If one guy gets off the page, then somebody else is trying to do their job and so on. Then you end up with chances and rebounds and such."

Be more careful with the puck, especially in the neutral zone. "When you turn it over, you are already out of position."

Better offensive zone positioning. "We can't get caught with everyone down low."

More time in the offensive zone. "When you get [the puck] in there, you can't let it out and let the other team have it for 35-40 seconds because you get tired. Things happen when you get tired and you take penalties."

Handle odd-man rushes. "All five guys have to get back in a hurry, get on the same page to get the puck out, as opposed to letting them have a rush and then spend another 35 seconds in our zone because we can't get it out. That's when you get second chances and third chances."

Anderson said he and his staff have spent time in practice on the team's defensive zone coverage, danger zone coverage and neutral zone coverage. Fix those things and improved stats — and more wins — should follow.

"We can do it," Hainsey said. "We've had games where we've kept teams under 30 shots. It's just doing it every night. There is a big difference. New Jersey does it every night. They keep the other team in the 20s. We do it one out of four games. We do it 25 percent of the time. They do it all the time.

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