I need to write this before I write my SB Nation recap - if that gets written, considering my headache.
It's amazing how fast a hockey game can change. What goes from a few missed chances in the first period can go to hell promptly in the second period, and that's what happened tonight. It was a complete and total breakdown. No defense, no goaltending, not really sure what was going on with the Pavelec-Mason-Pavelec-Mason goaltending switch... momentum shifts, frustration, multiple missed calls, and players responding inappropriately to stupid plays by the opposition designed to get under the Thrashers' skin.
No one played worth a damn tonight other than Byfuglien and Enstrom, who finished +1 on the night were the best defensive pairing. Chris Thorburn and Patrice Cormier both finished +2. Ladd and Little were also +1. Ben Eager was +1, but I don't care.
I don't call out individual players for things unless they do something outlandishly stupid. I called out Colby Armstrong multiple times last season for questionable hits, cowardly actions on the ice, and his lack of production. Things don't change just because you're in a new city, and what I've said about Army when he was in a Thrashers uniform is no different than what I'll say about him tonight. His goal and assist happened because the momentum of the game was so far away from the Thrashers it might as well have been on vacation in Boca. His cheap hit on Peverley towards the end of the 1st period with incidental knee on knee was inappropriate, and he was skating around doing what he does best - pissing teams off - all night long. Armstrong's a pest, and his job is to goad the other team into focusing on him more than the task at hand, which is winning.
This little exchange courtesy of John Manasso sums up both Colby Armstrong and Ben Eager perfectly:
#Leafs Colby Armstrong: Ben Eager is a "meat head." #Thrashers' Eager, Armstrong is "one of the phoniest players in the league."
It's funny, because they're opposite ends of the same pole. They both thrive on irritation. Eager did it constantly with Chicago, which is why I was less than thrilled when the Thrashers acquired him. I found him useless and always stirring up problems that someone else on the Blackhawks had to fix, or else he'd just piss off Cam Janssen who would promptly beat him into the ice. Eager's been a scratch here recently, and he hasn't been missed. His first game back, and he helps shift the momentum in favor of the Leafs with stupid penalties, and once the oomph is as far gone as it was tonight, you can't get it back.
Eager's double minor at 13 minutes or so into the 1st period was ill-advised. Roughing AND a cross check on Dion Phaneuf? No. Granted, Phaneuf shoved Eager back, but he didn't start it. Eager did. That penalty led to a power play goal for Toronto and it also shifted the momentum to the Leafs. The Thrashers were distracted and scrambling, and let a bad penalty kill dictate the emotion for the rest of the period and game.
The second period flood? The first three goals were inexcusable, but when you're down 5-1, do you really want someone doing something so ignorant that it costs your team four more goals? Ben Eager ran Colby Armstrong clearly with an intent to injure:
I don't care how annoying Army is - and he is pretty damn annoying - you do not do that. You take yourself out of the game totally, you give your team five minutes on the penalty kill, and you probably get suspended and fined. Why? Because someone's annoying you. Brilliant. That hit was just one more distraction on a night where the Thrashers didn't need any more, and there was no way that the PK could get their act together enough to stop the FOUR powerplay goals that Toronto scored.
Eager never, ever should have touched Armstrong. He needs to be at the least fined, at the most suspended a game or two. And when that suspension's over, a benching'd be in order. Hell, I'd be ok with sending him to Chicago and keeping Cormier up. Cormier finished +2 and got his first NHL goal tonight, and was one of the best players on the team.
Tonight was a bad night for everyone on the team, probably the coaches included. That still doesn't hide or excuse Eager's ignorant hit or actions. The Thrashers should bounce back from this fine, because at the end of the night, Atlanta's still in a playoff spot and Toronto's still looking up. But if you want to win games, you can't let other teams get in your head, and you absolutely cannot react to them the way that Eager did tonight. There's not one person that I blame tonight's loss on, but out of all of the guys on the ice, Eager absolutely and inexcusably acted like an idiot.