The good news for the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday was that their best player broke out of a drought and the game ended in regulation.
The bad news for the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday was that their best player committed a critical gaffe and the game ended in regulation with the other team winning.
Dustin Byfuglien scored - his first point in 14 point games - but his turnover in front of his own goalie changed the course of the game in the third period of a 5-4 road loss to Toronto.
Atlanta now finds itself tied in eighth in the East with Carolina, who play on Tuesday, but the Hurricanes will have played two fewer games by the end of the night.
The silver lining is that the Southeast rivals play three more times, including later this weke, so the Thrashers can take the initiative in salvaging their promising start to the season.
Coach Craig Ramsay was prophetic before the Toronto game in describing his team's woes and his players proceeded to follow them to a tee.
Ramsay said the Thrashers put in an honest effort against the likes of Detroit, Washington and Chicago due to a "fear factor" but their concentration wanes against lesser foes.
He also spoke of the presence Byfuglien brings to the table, but did allow that the big defenceman sometimes wants to do too much for the good of his team instead of making the simpler play.
The Thrashers have won just 11 of the last 31, and in five of those wins, they gave the other team an extra point by going past 60 minutes. Since Dec. 1, they've also lost six games that went into overtime or shootout.
"We've been closing those close games and at the end of the season those [overtime] points ... you dont want to be looking back at the end of season saying coulda, woulda, shoulda," Anthony Stewart said early Monday.
If NHL games were 40 minutes, Atlanta could be in business but they are a dreadful 15-11-8 (.441 winning percentage) in games in which they score the first goal. Even the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders have a .600 or better winning percentage when getting the first goal.
Relatedly, the Thrashers have a minus-18 goal differential in the third period of games. Heading into Monday, only non-playoff contenders Ottawa and the New York Islanders were worse in that department.
Stewart has been full value, but if there's one player who could be said to epitomize the team's inconsistency, it's Nik Bergfors.
The second year Swede has the potential to be not unlike countryman Alex Steen of St. Louis - an effective two-way player. Bergfors talked a good game on Monday morning about not putting too much pressure on himself as his season has taken roller-coaster turns (strong start, big drought, time in the press box, huge turnover last week) but it wasn't entirely convincing.
Bergfors finished with a game-worst minus-3 in Toronto, and was reduced to just 13 minutes of play.
As with many NHL clubs, the Thrashers simply don't have the depth to survive too many injuries, and they've had a bunch to key players: Evander Kane, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Nik Antropov.
The positive side for Atlanta is that goalie Chris Mason is now back to pick up some slack from tiring Ondrej Pavelec, and all but Enstrom are currently in the lineup.
But the pressure is building for one of just two NHL franchises never to have won a playoff game.
Two entries on talented but inconsistent defencemen at different points in their careers:
Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News Observer spotlights Joni Pitkanen. The workhorse Finn is having a decent but not great season, and is a UFA in the summer. He's currently making $4.5 million US.
Rangers coach John Tortorella hasn't decided through six games of his call back up to the NHL if Michael Del Zotto will stay, writes Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
Can Peter Forsberg summon some old magic - and quickly? Colorado has been shut out in two straight and neither Matt Duchene nor Paul Stastny had a shot on goal against Phoenix on Monday, writes Terry Frei of the Denver Post.
Do you remember the Challenge Cup?
On Feb. 8, 1979, NHL all-stars and the Soviet Union's best faced off for the first of three times at Madison Square Garden.
The NHL team included the likes of Ken Dryden, Bobby Clarke, Mike Bossy, Borje Salming, Guy Lafleur and some WHA players, like Winnipeg's Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg.
It started with a 4-2 win for the NHL but the series changed in the second period of Game 2, when the reps from the North American clubs twice blew two-goal leads.
Game 3 saw Gerry Cheevers in net instead of Dryden but the move backfired and the NHL couldn't beat Vladislav Tretiak. The 6-0 shocker was the first of two whippings in just under three years.
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