Atlanta Thrashers are the masters of frustration

thrashers.jpgEvery now and then, Pro Hockey Talk will ask for insight from some of the best team bloggers out there. For this feature, we asked a simple question: “Who is your team’s most frustrating player?” Just for fun, Brandon and I also provided our “guesses” as to who that player might be.

First, here are our guesses for Atlanta.

Brandon: Vyacheslav Kozlov – To me this was a no-brainer. I’m not exactly certain what Thrashers fans feel, but someone who is the 2nd-highest paid forward on the team should never have the lowest plus/minus, while putting up wholly pedestrian numbers.

James: Vyacheslav Kozlov – The player who was once among the league’s most underrated is now one of its most frustrating. I doubt you’ll see him in an NHL uniform next season.

Laura Astorian is one of our best blogging buddies and happens to be a go-to source for both St. Louis Blues and Atlanta Thrashers blogging goodness. She’s also helping out with Cycle like the Sedins among many other endeavors. You might as well follow her on Twitter just to be safe.

Asking for only one great source of frustration for a Thrashers fan is like asking someone at Godiva what their favorite truffle is. The common areas of irritation are Kozlov, White, Armstrong, and Pavelec. It’s extremely easy to target any of those players as someone who makes you want to pull your hair out. Kozlov and White, after career years for each of them last season, dropped off the radar. Somehow, though, despite similar production and a similarly horrible +/-, only Kozlov found himself benched. White has been placed out there time and time again, and despite being fairly serviceable on the penalty kill, at even strength all that he does is highlight the need to get Kane back.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s being played over Kozlov because he still has a year left on a contract we overpaid for, and Kozzie’s a UFA … but what do I know?

Army, well, I have seen a gangster in cement shoes skate faster than he does. He’s another victim of heightened expectations for this season.

The biggest frustration, but the easiest to cope with, is that of Ondrej Pavelec. He’s only 22, so you can argue that he has more than enough time to find his stride. He has had flashes of absolute brilliance, and then lays a massive egg the next game. His confidence got rattled after some rough OT/shootouts. There was a stretch of where it seemed like he allowed an average of 3-4 goals every time he started. He’s working stuff out, but as close as the Thrashers are to a playoff spot, it’s rough to think of the games that we could have won if Johan Hedberg had been in goal.

On the flip side, we would have signed Legace and his knee would have imploded after 3 starts, and then we’d be right back where we are now. I’m convinced that they have a framed plaque of Murphy’s Law up on the wall in the locker room somewhere.

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    Kulikov returns to increasingly healthy Sabres lineup

    CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.

    The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

    Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?

    He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.

    Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.

    With Foligno out sick, Columbus gives Bjorkstrand another shot

    COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face-off during the game against the Boston Bruins on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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    The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.

    The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.

    He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.

    With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.

    Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?

    Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old:

    Gretzky defends McDavid’s outburst after Manning incident

    WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Wayne Gretzky (L) and Dale Hawerchuk drop the puck in a ceremonial face-off between Blake Wheeler #26 and Connor McDavid #97 during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Fred Greenslade /Getty Images)
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    PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

    McDavid and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

    “I guess we can put the whole ‘if he did it’ thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that,” said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers’ loss.

    “I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player,” Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. “I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I’m a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that.”

    Gretzky didn’t mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

    “And Connor, he’s going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him,” Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. “He’s been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he’s always responded and done his part.”

    Related: McDavid accuses ‘classless’ Manning of injuring him on purpose

    Bishop trying not to let contract situation affect his play

    TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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    Ben Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, and that makes it particularly striking to see his numbers a quarter of the way through 2016-17.

    After 18 starts, Bishop is 8-10-1 with a .906 save percentage. He got the hook after two periods last night at Amalie Arena, where he surrendered four goals to the Vancouver Canucks in a 5-1 loss.

    Last night marked the third time in his last five starts that he’d surrendered at least four goals, and one of the goals he allowed looked like this:

    So, do things feel different this season?

    “I feel fine,” Bishop said today, per Lightning Insider. “We go back and watch the games and technically it’s all there. There is really no difference from the way I’ve played the last couple of years to now. I don’t like saying this, but it’s been a strange season with goofy goals on tips and bounces, goals off your own players. So I think if you took some of those away, the numbers would be pretty similar to years past. I would like to get the wins a little higher.”

    Bishop, of course, is a pending unrestricted free agent who is unlikely to re-sign with the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy appears to be the goalie of the future in Tampa Bay. On July 1, the 22-year-old re-signed through 2019-20.

    Vasilevskiy is also 6-2-1 with a .929 save percentage.

    So in that regard, it’s a bit like the situation we’re seeing in New York, where Henrik Lundqvist is struggling and Antti Raanta is thriving.

    The difference is Lundqvist isn’t going to be looking for a new team anytime soon. Remember that Bishop “was close” to being traded to Calgary in the offseason. He could still end up there in free agency, depending if Brian Elliott bounces back.

    Bishop says he’s trying not to let his contract situation affect his state of mind; however, he admits he’d “be lying if I said I never thought about it.”

    “It’s definitely there in the back of your head,” he said.

    The Lightning host the Penguins on Saturday.

    Expect Vasilevskiy to start that one.