The Bruins, who entered the 2009-10 season with Stanley Cup aspirations, are skidding at such an alarming rate that the possibility of missing the playoffs has become very realistic, even in November. Meanwhile, the Thrashers are riding a four-game winning streak and are on their way to becoming unstoppable at home.
Thursday's game means a lot. For the Bruins, it's a chance to reassert themselves as a contender in the Eastern Conference. For the Thrashers, it's a chance to prove that they are indeed for real.
Aaron Brown of Bird Watchers Anonymous checks in with NESN.com to lend his perspective on the Thrashers.
NESN.com: As sad as it may make Boston fans, the Thrashers actually own a better record than the Bruins. Are expectations high this year in Atlanta for this group after a pair of fourth-place finishes in the last two years? How is the city reacting to this year's team, which has a chance to do some damage?
Aaron Brown: Expectations are riding higher this year. The hard-core faithful are being encouraged by the Thrashers' new faces: Nik Antropov, Max Afinogenov, Pavel Kubina and Evander Kane — not to mention new associate GM Rick Dudley. Hiring a guy of that caliber was seen as a sign that ownership was serious about turning this franchise around.
The buzz is starting to build as the team begins to collect wins. We've seen Thrashers players and coaches pop up in places like NHL Live, local sports talk radio and even non-traditional places like soft-rock morning shows. Zach Bogosian and Gloria Estefan — nice.
NESN.com: Is the franchise's all-time leading scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk, staying in Atlanta, or will he join fellow All-Stars Marc Savard, Marian Hossa and Dany Heatley as the ones who got away? How has he responded to all of these rumors?
A.B.: Kovalchuk has been extremely classy through the whole ordeal. His stock response at this point is, "That's between management and my agent." There's a real sense that he wants to stay here, something we never had with Hossa or Heatley. He likes the city, he likes being a leader and he really sees this as his team. Since the midpoint of last year, when his teammates lobbied head coach John Anderson to give Kovy the captain's C, his production has soared. He's even dispelled the myth that he can't backcheck.
NESN.com: Ondrej Pavelec is getting the majority of starts for the injured Kari Lehtonen, who is expected to be out until around New Year's. How has Pavelec responded?
A.B.: Like a big Czech machine. His goaltending style is very, um … interesting? For us longtime Atlanta fans, our breathing gets shallow and we start getting flashbacks of Pasi Nurminen when we watch him. But Ondrej continues to get the job done, and he seems to do it better with every start. The bonus in all of this is that he's sharing time with seasoned veteran Johan Hedberg. I think the 70-30 split they have going is keeping Ondrej from feeling the entire burden of being a No. 1, and Moose gets enough playing time to stay sharp.
NESN.com: Rich Peverley has stepped up into a major role this season. Who is this guy, and what can the Bruins expect to see out of him?
A.B.: I'm fairly certain Rich Peverley is the center of some kind of cult down here. It's a great story (guy works hard through every level and attains success), and it's happening to a great guy. No matter what situation you need him to fill, he can do it. He may not be the biggest or the fastest player, but there's an incredible hockey sense on this guy — he just knows where to be. The Thrashers have yet to find a player he can't mesh with, so I wouldn't even try to predict how he's going to come at the Bruins.
NESN.com: Atlanta is just 4-4-0 at home compared to 6-2-1 on the road. What gives?
A.B.: Hotel stays. The night before the season opener against Tampa Bay, the team stayed in a hotel. Next night, 6-3 win. After that, the team seemed to be about a half-hour behind whenever they played at Philips. Recently, they've been showing up for the first period and haven't had to play from behind. It seems to serve them pretty well, because the Thrashers are 7-0 when they score first. Or maybe there's something to room service food after all.
Thanks again to Aaron Brown of Bird Watchers Anonymous. Be sure to check out his blog for more information on the Thrashers.