1. 4.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

OGA Road Trip III: The Battle of the Birds

After an illness- and Turkey Day-induced delay, here comes Part Two of Blogger Day in Atlanta:

Opening Faceoff - PIT @ ATL, 21 NOV 09

Frozen Pill and I returned to Philips Arena roughly an hour before game time. While we had plenty of time to partake of the $5 media buffet - which looked pretty good, by the way - we were still full from lunch at The Flying Biscuit. Instead, we picked up our "cheat sheets" (Ever wonder how announcers know all those detailed stats and trivia about players on both teams? Cheat sheets.) and headed up to the press box.

Along the way, we passed a group of 4-5 Penguins, led by Bill Guerin, kicking a soccer ball around. Our guide to the elevator, the ever-helpful Thrashers' PR Intern Lee Wilson, told us about the Columbus Blue Jackets' recent visit to Philips Arena, in which the Jackets managed to get their soccer ball stuck in the rafters and had to get building maintainence to get it down. Apparently, though they travel with roughly a dozen sticks per player, not to mention all the extra equipment, the Blue Jackets only bring one soccer ball on the road.

Once inside the press box, we found our assigned seats. We bloggers were in the upper level of the press box, just a few feet removed from the scouts. The presence of the scouts led to much speculation on the part of the Pill and myself. While it's perfectly understandable for teams with upcoming games against either Atlanta or Pittsburgh to send scouts to Philips Arena, we were intrigued by the presence of scouts from two Western Conference clubs, neither of which play either the Thrashers or Penguins in the near future. You have to think they were scouting individuals, rather than teams. Rather than indulging in wild speculation, however, the Pill and I have chosen to keep our thoughts on a certain club in dire need of a puck-moving defenseman, and with left wings to spare, to ourselves. In the category of Cheap Thrills, however, it was quite cool to look to my right and see Detroit Red Wings' Director of Pro Scouting Mark Howe watching the game and taking notes.

Another great experience was getting to talk to Chris Vivlamore, the Thrashers' beat writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He relayed to us what has become a common theme around the continent: newspapers are cutting staff and struggling to remain viable as more and more people turn to the internet for news. While this increases the audience for (and importance of) bloggers (as evidenced by the Thrashers hosting their third Blogger Day in the past two seasons), we bloggers must find an answer to the same question the newspapers are currently struggling to answer: How do we make money providing the information which consumers are used to obtaining for free on the internet?

The game itself featured a number of firsts: Evander Kane's first Fighting Major, the first penalty shot I'd ever witnessed in person (Max Talbot shot it wide), the first multi-goal game of Martin Skoula's career, and the first time I'd ever seen Ilya Kovalchuk tossed from the game (after accumulating 19 PIMs in one incident early in the 3rd).

Firsts aside, the arena was nice and loud. A major source of annoyance for the Thrashers fans had to be the abundance of Penguins fans in attendance. The cheer that issued forth for each Pittsburgh goal was easily as loud as the cheers for the Atlanta goals. This reminded me very much of the Red Wings' visits to Dallas, which are made worse by Detroit's success against the Stars over the last decade-plus.

While it would've been nice to see the visiting fans leave Philips Arena quickly and quietly after the game, this was not to be. The Thrashers played the first two periods as if they were intimidated by the Defending Stanley Cup Champs. The Thrashers weren't able to accomplish much offensively, despite the Pens' patchwork quilt defensive corps. When they did get past the defense, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was on his game, making several great saves over the course of the evening. In fact, the Thrashers' first sign of life came at 6:52 of the 3rd, when Kovy went after Pittsburgh winger Matt Cooke in apparent retaliation for an uncalled trip ("slewfoot" was the term used by Atlanta Coach John Anderson) in front of the benches.

With their Captain off to the showers, Atlanta finally got their collective game on. A shorthanded goal by Chris Thorburn cut the Pittsburgh lead to 3-1, but the Thrashers didn't score again until Maxim Afinogenov beat Fleury with 17.5 seconds remaining in the game. It was too little, too late, however, and the Penguins left town with a deserved 3-2 win.

As soon as the game was over, we gathered our things and took the elevator down to the basement, with the goal of attending John Anderson's post-game press conference. As we approached the press room, Coach Anderson came out and strode purposefully to the Thrashers' locker room. Apparently, it was the shortest post-game presser of Anderson's tenure in Atlanta. Understandably, he felt that what he needed to say to his team was more important than anything he might say to the media.

Thus, Blogger Day ended a bit more abruptly than planned. Still, it was a great experience, and was capped off quite nicely with an invitation from Laura (aka Hildymac) of the scintillating Blues and Thrashers blog Wazzupwitchu? to join her and a couple of friends for soda pops at an Atlanta institution, Taco Mac. After much good conversation and...soda pop, Blogger Day was finally, officially over.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.


Bright Young Thing said...

lol yeah "soda pop"... I just call them "adult beverages."

Please tell me you saw the Thrashers game last night where the Panthers took out their own goalie in the 1st period. Somebody has anger management issues... lol.

Big Tex said...

Yeah, that's the first time I've ever seen that. It's just one more bizarre injury in an injury-filled season.

I know Keith Ballard (the Panthers' d-man) feels terrible about hurting his own goalie. I think it's rather odd, however, that there's no penalty for fratricide in the NHL. Got any animosity towards one of your teammates? Feel free to take 'em out!