Playing in the same conference doesn?t usually breed a lot of good will between teams, but Bruins fans have a few reasons to like the Atlanta Thrashers at least a little.
There?s the presence of former Bruins assistant Craig Ramsay behind the Atlanta bench after being hired as the Thrashers head coach in June.
There?s the fact that the Bruins haven?t lost to Atlanta since 2007, a run of 10 straight victories.
And there's the fact that Thrashers forward Evander Kane delivered this beautiful beatdown on Public Enemy No. 1 Matt Cooke last spring.
It?s hard to hate a team like that, but Ramsay at least hopes to get the Bruins — and the rest of the NHL — to respect the Thrashers a little more. Atlanta has made the playoffs just once in its first 10 years, losing in four straight to the Rangers in 2007. Ramsay, with a little help from some imports from Chicago, hopes to change that as the Thrashers enter their first full season of the post–Kovalchuk era.
2009-10 Record: 35-34-13, 83 points (second Southeast Division; 10th Eastern Conference; did not qualify for the playoffs)
Bruins record vs. Thrashers: Boston leads the all-time series 24-11-2-3, and swept the Thrashers for a second straight year last season. The Bruins won 4-3 in a shootout at Atlanta on Nov. 19, rolled to 6-4 and 4-0 victories at home on Dec. 23 and Dec. 30 and then won 4-0 again in Atlanta on March 23.
When to watch: The Bruins play at Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 28 and Saturday, April 2, while the Thrashers come to Boston on Thursday, Dec. 23 and Thursday Dec. 30.
Familiar faces: New head coach Ramsay comes to Atlanta after three years as a Bruins assistant. So far, he hasn?t brought any former Bruins down to Georgia, but the Thrashers do have a strong New England flavor with defensemen Ron Hainsey (Bolton, Conn./UMass-Lowell), Jaime Sifers (Stratford, Conn./Vermont) and Noah Welch (Brighton, Mass./Harvard).
Key additions: F Dustin Byfuglien (trade with Chicago); F Ben Eager (trade with Chicago); F Akim Aliu (trade with Chicago); D Brent Sopel (trade with Chicago); F Andrew Ladd (trade with Chicago); G Chris Mason (free agent); F Patrick Rissmiller (trade with N.Y. Rangers); D Jaime Sifers (free agent); F Fredrik Pettersen (free agent); F Jared Ross (free agent)
Key losses: F Maxim Afinogenov (signed with St. Petersburg, KHL); D Pavel Kubina (signed with Tampa Bay); F Clarke MacArthur (Thrashers walked away from arbitration award); F Todd White (traded to N.Y. Rangers); F Colby Armstrong (signed with Toronto); F Donald Brashear (bought out); D Chris Chelios (retired); F Marty Reasoner (traded to Chicago); F Jeremy Morin (traded to Chicago); F Joey Crabb (traded to Chicago); D Ivan Vishnevsky (traded to Chicago); F Slava Kozlov (free agent)
Burning question: How will Ramsay fare as a head coach in Atlanta?
The Bruins? loss is Atlanta?s gain as Ramsay moves from being Claude Julien?s right-hand man to taking over behind the bench for the Thrashers. Ramsay has an extensive resume with nearly four decades in the NHL as a player, coach and in a variety of front-office roles.
He worked closely with the Bruins defense, helping it to finish in the top two in the league in goals against in each of the last two seasons. But Ramsay hasn?t been a head coach in a decade, and his two brief stints as bench boss yielded mixed results. He was just 4-15-2 in 21 games running the Sabres in 1986-87.
In 2000, he took over for ailing Roger Neilson in Philadelphia and guided the Flyers to a 16-8-1 mark and reached the conference finals. But Philly was just 12-12-4 under Ramsay the following year when he was fired in December.
At 59, this might be Ramsay?s final shot at showing he can be a successful head coach and not just one of the best assistants in the game.
2010-11 outlook: Can a team that didn?t make the playoff suffer a Stanley Cup hangover? This Thrashers squad just might, thanks to a pair of trades that brought in four key players from Chicago?s championship roster. The Thrashers benefited more than anyone from the Blackhawks? cap purge, and now Atlanta hopes that forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager and defenseman Brent Sopel can bring their winning ways down South. Centers Nik Antropov (24-43-67) and Rich Peverley (22-33-55) will benefit most from the new wingers, along with a full season from Niclas Bergfors (21-23-44), who came to Atlanta late in the season in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade. Sopel adds some experience to a blue line that features talented youngster Zach Bogosian (10-13-23), along with Tobias Enstrom (6-44-50) and Johnny Oduya, who also was a part of the Kovalchuk deal. Free-agent addition Chris Mason should be an upgrade in goal.
Did you know? Milan Lucic is one Bruin who will definitely be eager to face the Thrashers this year. In his young career, Lucic has enjoyed more success against Atlanta than any other team. The Thrashers are the only team he averages more than a point a game against, with 6-5-11 totals in 10 games. That includes his only NHL hat trick in a four-point game on Oct. 25, 2008. Last year, Lucic missed two of the Atlanta games with his high ankle sprain, but still managed a goal and an assist in the two other contests.
Next: We?ll continue our tour of the Southeast Division with a check on Carolina on Wednesday.