ATLANTA – Early last season, goals came easily for Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Zach Bogosian.
This season has represented an adjustment for the former third overall pick. With teammates Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom ranking first and fourth, respectively, in the NHL in points by defensemen, power-play time has been scarce for the 20-year-old and new coach Craig Ramsay has asked him to focus on other areas of his game.
On Monday, Bogosian scored his second goal of the season in a gratifying manner – the game-winner in overtime – as Atlanta rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 3-2 win against Nashville at Philips Arena, giving the Thrashers their eighth win in nine games.
"Oh, it feels good," said Bogosian, who notched eight goals in his first 17 games last season. "Definitely feels good. It's good to, obviously, score but more important the team won and, you know, I think last year early in the year I got on a hot streak where I was on the power play a little bit and I was shooting a lot and then, obviously, this year things are a little different for me with Buff and Toby on the first PP. I just kind of have to wait my turn and be a good team guy and do whatever I can to help the team win and just try to chip in whatever you can."
In addition to crediting Bogosian, Ramsay praised the play by wing Ben Eager to set up the play. Rookie Alexander Burmistrov carried the puck into Nashville's end along the left boards and then Eager dug it out and dished it across the ice to Bogosian who skated in and picked a corner at 2:11 to win it.
"That was tremendous and Benny Eager set it up on the 4-on-4, so Benny got his chance to play 4-on-4, he makes a great play," Ramsay said. "We've had so many guys that take their turn stepping up and Benny made a really good play. I think their guy didn't have a stick. It worked for us this time.
"That was a great play. Bogo's had so many good chances. He's played some really good hockey for us and for him to score was another one of those steps for all of us."
On their current hot streak, the Thrashers are rocketing upwards in the standings, though Ramsay said, perhaps coyly, that he has not looked at the standings since before the season started. Atlanta's only loss during the current came 3-2 last Thursday at Pittsburgh, which won its 10th in a row on Monday. The Thrashers caught Tampa Bay for second in the division on Monday with 33 points and sit six behind Eastern Conference leader Washington, against which Atlanta is 3-1-1 in five meetings already this season.
But on Monday, they looked as if a lackluster start – Ramsay said they were "brain dead" – would doom them. They fell down quickly 2-0 to a Predators team that entered on a three-game winning streak, as Colin Wilson picked up points on each goal.
Wilson got the first goal, taking a drop pass from Sergei Kostitsyn, he skated towards the left circle where he beat Ondrej Pavelec (27 saves) with a wrist shot at 8:39 of the first. Thrashers allowed the first goal for only the third time in their last 15 games.
Exactly two and a half minutes later, Wilson set up Steve Sullivan with a shot from the middle of the ice just inside the blue line that Sullivan, standing to Pavelec's right, redirected into the goal. Wilson's line with Sullivan and Cal O'Reilly – the first goal assisted by Kostitsyn came amid a line change – gave Atlanta trouble all night.
The game turned in the second period when Atlanta's fourth line connected at 14:25. Jim Slater won an offensive zone faceoff back to Enstrom, then headed to the net. Enstrom's point shot deflected off Slater and beat Preds goalie Anders Lindback (34 saves) wide to the glove side. The line, with Chris Thorburn and Eric Boulton, has been effective during the current run for Atlanta, as Boulton is the team's co-leader in plus/minus at plus-6. He narrowly missed a goal on the same shift following the faceoff after Slater's goal, as the puck jumped over his stick, making him unable to connect on a wide-open net.
Atlanta earned the tying toal with 13:11 left in regulation on the power play, just five seconds after Shea Weber went off for boarding Niclas Bergfors. Nashville had killed the first three tries by Atlanta, which entered with the League's top power play. Those kills resulted in a franchise record 37 straight penalty kills for the Preds, which gave up its first power play goal in 11 games on Monday.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz was unhappy with the call on his captain, calling it "weak." He noted that at the end of the first period, Weber had required stitches after taking a high stick to his mouth – a result of a play by Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd – and no call resulted.
"They get a power-play goal, which I thought was a little bit of a weak penalty," Trotz said. "There was no penalty on Weber getting stitched up and a stick in the mouth – all that -- so, a little frustrating. More frustrating than down, I would think. I thought we played a pretty good game against a team that's playing really well right now."
Ladd ended up getting that tying goal after Rich Peverley – whom Atlanta acquired on a claim after Nashville waived him almost two years ago -- won the faceoff and Bryan Little passed back to Byfuglien. Byfuglien put a hard, low shot on goal and Lindback, playing for the injured Pekka Rinne, stopped the shot with his left pad but left the rebound where Ladd got to it before Nashville's Cal O'Reilly and slipped it in the net. The assist was Byfuglien's 19th.
"You always know guys want to do well against their old teams, especially when you get waived, you know," Ladd said of Peverley, a 22-goal scorer last season. "But he's proved how consistent he can be and how great of an NHL player he can be the last couple of years here, so I don't think he's too worried about it."
Pavelec has been in goal for all of the eight wins during the current run and has climbed near the top of the League leaders in both goals-against average and save percentage. The 23-year-old Czech made a few spectacular saves including one with the back of his hand that Ramsay said was "very Dominik Hasek of him."
One of Pavelec's biggest came without about five minutes left in regulation when Nashville entered Atlanta's zone on a 3-on-2 with Sullivan sending a pass from the left side to O'Reilly at the front of the net and Pavelec had to slide across the goal to get a piece of it and keep it out.
1 - 0 NSH
2 - 0 NSH
2 - 1 NSH
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 ATL
Interference on goalkeeper