The 2008-2009 season has been a struggle for the Atlanta Thrashers. Of course, when you have only made the playoffs once in your entire team history, it is natural to assume that when a season concludes, it will leave championship hopes dashed and desires for success unquenched.
All negativity aside, there are a million theories to explain what is wrong with this team. From sagging ticket sales (averaging about 1600 fewer fans a night than last season) to struggles with team identity under new coach John Anderson, there is plenty of vitriol and blame to go around the organization.
Well, let me add another theory into the cauldron of failure. I was reading an interesting post in the Atlanta Journal Constitution this morning, and it contained an article on the Thrashers recent road trip. As I was reading that piece, I noticed a blurb entitled “Thrashers Need To Bring Road Routine Back With Them”, and being the intrepid mind that I am, I clicked on it and was shocked to read the following statement:
“It’s unusual. All but four of the NHL’s 30 teams do better when they play at home than when they travel. The average difference between home and road records: .222 points per game through Sunday’s games. (Teams get two points for a victory and one point for a loss in overtime or in a shootout.)The Thrashers average .875 points per road game but .714 per home game. That’s a .161 points per game home-ice disadvantage. Vancouver, Los Angeles and New Jersey are the only other teams that do worse at home than on the road.”
Now, I am hardly one to base my opinions on one piece of evidence, or a single article in a newspaper (man, have I been burned in that department before), so I did a little investigating of my own, and much to my chagrin, the newspaper has it right: the Thrashers are a completely different team at home than when they are on the road, and it’s a huge reason that they have struggled this season.
We’ll start in the beginning (in our case, October). Atlanta played five home games and five road games during the month. They were 2-3 at home, and 0-3-2 on the road. While that may scream “victory!” for the home side, there are certain numbers that need to be examined before that determination can be made.
On the power play, the Thrashers converted three out of twenty eight chances during October. That is a 10.7% success rate, and that is an unacceptable level of failure for a team trying to open the season with a bang. To make matters worse, all three of those conversions were against the Capitals in their first home game, which means they failed on their last 19 attempts. That’s pretty bad.
While on the road, their power play was significantly better, converting 5-0f-23 chances for a 21.7% success rate. So, while the wins may have been harder to come by away from home, the team was playing looser and more offensively successful hockey away from Atlanta.
Moving on to November, the Thrashers went 3-3-1 at home during the month, and 3-3 on the road. While these records seem remarkably similar, there are more complexities involved that make the road seem more appealing this month as well.
The Thrashers scored 19 goals in their seven home skates during the month, which adds up to less than three a game (2.71, to be exact). They also scored 21 goals in their six road skates, which is 3.5 a game, a far better total.
In addition to the disparity in goal scoring overall, the power play numbers are startling for the month. The team went 4-for-27 on the power play at home, a 14.8% success rate. Not too great. On the road, however, the team went 6-for-17, a 35.2% success rate, which is more than double the success than at home. Not only was the team’s home percentage bad, but they only converted two of their final nineteen power plays of the month on Phillips ice.
In December, the Thrashers had a pretty pitiful month all around, going an anemic 1-5-1 at home and 3-4-1 on the road. They had a 25.9% success rate on the power play at home, and a 24.3% rate on the road. Before you go hooting and hollering that home ice was kinder to them in this month, remember that they scored five more goals overall on the road than at home in the month, and they allowed seven fewer goals in one more game on the road than at home.
Also, three of the power play goals Atlanta notched at home during the month were in one game against the Hurricanes, which the team lost ironically enough.
In January, the Thrashers had their worst month by far on the power play, only converting 15% of man advantages at home and a terrible 12% on the road.
Overall, however, the team’s numbers don’t look all that bad. They were only outscored by two goals during the month 39-37, and their record was still 5-8. They also allowed eight of those goals in a single loss to the Panthers, so if you throw that game out, they only allowed 2.58 goals per game the rest of the month.
In February, the team has only played three home games and lost all three, getting outscored 11-4 and have converted 17.6% of their power plays. Meanwhile, on the road, they are 4-1-1, outscoring opponents 22-19 and converting 28.6% of their power plays. To keep context, of these 19 goals, 10 of them were to the Ducks and Kings, and quite a few were scored when the game was already out of hand in favor of Atlanta.
If you total everything up, the answers are made pretty crystal clear. The Thrashers are 9-17-2 at Phillips Arena this season, averaging 2.54 goals per game and allowing 3.64 per game. They also have a 16.8% success rate on the power play with the man advantage.They also have a goal differential of -31 on the season.
Meanwhile, on the road, Atlanta is 12-16-4 this season, averaging 3.16 goals per game and giving up 3.41 per game. This means they are playing better offensively and better defensively at the same time while they are away from Atlanta.The Thrashers also have a 23.5% success rate on the power play away from Phillips Arena, an improvement of nearly 7%. Their goal differential is also only -8, a 23 goal difference.
With all these numbers now rattling around in our collective heads, let’s look at things a little more subjectively. Are the Thrashers playing better simply because road teams tend to play with no pressure, and play simpler hockey, or are these numbers just a coincidence?
Well, if you ask Slava Kozlov, the answer may be the former rather than the latter.
“For some reason I think on the road we’ve got no pressure,” Kozlov told the AJC. “We go out, spend some time together. Maybe that’s why we play better. At home, our record is not so good.”
Other players seem to echo Kozlov’s sentiments.
“Sometimes when you play on the road, you play a little simpler, maybe,” Todd White said in the same article. “We’ve got to do that here. We have to try and make the easy play.”
Well, with five of their next six games being played in front of the home fans at Phillips Arena, let’s hope that the Thrashers take the lessons from their simpler system that they used to perfection on the West Coast to the ice when they play the Avalanche tonight.