Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Toronto Maple Leafs 3 at Atlanta Thrashers 4 - January 19, 2010

After a short drive from Nashville, we arrived in Atlanta ready to watch the Leafs continue their road trip. It was going to be a tough game tonight with league-worst goalie Vesa Toskala in net for the Leafs, but hopes were still high after last night's win.

Philips Arena

I haven't written about the Thrashers home rink, Philips Arena. Located right downtown next to CNN Center, the arena is directly above the verbosely-named Marta station Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center. Built in 1999, the arena is unique in that it's luxury suites and boxes are all on one side of the venue. This allows the upper deck seats to be closer to the playing surface as there are no suites on that side. However, you can't walk around the whole rink without a club ticket. You can, however, walk around the outside of the building.

There's a food court next to the Arena that is part of the CNN complex. This is a great place to fill up before the game, with plenty of decent fast-food selections at reasonable prices. There's also a number of sit-down restaurants such as Taco Mac that are connected to the arena. I don't think you'd need to buy the arena food here with these options available before and after the game.

I doubt you'd have to buy tickets from the box office here - I found great seats on-line at a discount (thanks Terri!) and suggest you do so as well. I've seen 3 games here in the last week, one on each level, and there doesn't seem to be a bad seat.

The scoreboard is OK, probably a bit outdated these days as it's not HD, but it does the job. The out-of-town scores are posted around the arena - all NBA, NHL, and major college basketball scores are shown here, which I like.

This is a pretty good place to watch games. Convenient (although more train service on game nights would be welcome), clean, and comfortable. It's too bad that there aren't more hockey fans in the area.

The Game

The Thrashers take the ice

The trip hit a high point at 14:39 of the first period. That's when Alexei Ponikarovsky scored his second of two tip-ins, the first coming just 32 seconds earlier. The Leafs were again up 2-0! Could it get any better? The short answer: No.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored a goal early in the second just as a penalty to Ponikarovsky expired. You can see Kovalchuk getting ready to shoot on the power play, and the puck in the net a few seconds later below.

Midway through the period, rookie Evander Kane tied the game on a nifty wraparound that beat a lunging Toskala. In the third, a power play goal by Rich Peverley was quickly followed by Kovalchuk's second, a slapshot that Toskala should have had, but it deflected off his pad and into the net. It was 4-2 Atlanta and despite Nikolas Hagman netting one with 14 minutes left, the Leafs could not beat Ondrej Pavelec again. They even had a power play for the last 1:49 and were all around the net, but the elusive tying goal was not to be found. Sigh.

I was sitting above the tunnel that the Thrashers use and noticed that coach John Anderson let out a bit sigh of relief as he left the bench. The Leafs outshot Atlanta 40-32 and really should have won the game. But Toskala is not very good.

Francois Beauchemin in warmups

Overall Thoughts

Atlanta is not a good sports town. Only 10,000 for this team? They are an exciting, fast-paced team and Kovalchuk is a top-10 star. The fans who were present were great, but where the hell was everybody else. I guess a sign of how low the Thrashers are placed on the local sports scene was found in Wednesday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The front page of the sports section had a report on Georgia Tech's basketball game from the night before, as well as a column on Hawks' center Al Horford. The Thrashers report was on page 4. Such is hockey life in the south.

But there's no doubt that Nashville is a better market than Atlanta for hockey. I don't know how long the Thrashers can compete with such low attendance.

The Leafs are not terrible and actually outplayed the Thrashers for the most part. But weak penalty killing and horrid goalkeeping will undermine every team. Hoping The Monster starts the two Florida games.

There's a lot of Toronto fans on this trip. We've seen the same people in Nashville and Atlanta and it looks like many of them are on their way to Tampa and Miami as well. Great to see that sports road trips are alive and well even in this fractured economy.

Next Up

I'm going to check out a bit of NCAA Tennis today at Georgia Tech. We were considering the Kings-Hawks game, but with a big drive tomorrow, I'd rather get on the road early and limit the driving tomorrow before the game.



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