CAUGHT IN THE NETS
This week loomed as a make or break week for the Atlanta Thrashers. Goaltending phenom Kari Lehtonen (left), who went down in the first game of the season, was expected to return for his first full practice with the team Monday. Given the Thrashers' goaltending situation, one could rightfully extrapolate that the team's season hangs in the balance. Not so fast.
The subject of much derision when he was named the team's "starter" several weeks ago, rookie netminder Michael Garnett has quietly helped the Thrashers jump back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, where they entered play Sunday just three points out of eighth. With the Thrashers' 2-1 win over Florida on Saturday, Garnett has evened his record at 7-7-2 and has been mostly solid during the team's recent 4-0-1 streak. Surprisingly, one of Garnett's most important wins was a 7-6 victory over Detroit last week, when the undisciplined Thrashers blew a 6-2 lead and allowed the Wings to tie the game before Patrik Stefan's deciding goal. "When they tied it up I just thought, 'Wow, we've really got to pick it up now.' It was a little bit overwhelming there for a couple of minutes," Garnett said.
The 23-year-old native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, looked every bit the AHL goalie when he was first called up. But after a brief stint back in the minors, Garnett's comfort-level has dramatically improved in his second go-round at the NHL level. No one is suggesting that Lehtonen, considered one of the finest prospects in years, will have to fight Garnett for his job, but if the Thrashers do make the playoffs, they will look back fondly at Garnett as a crucial factor in turning around their season.
WHAT ABOUT MOM?
The Red Wings invited the fathers and/or mentors of players and staff on their recent trip through the Southeast Conference. It was an eye-opener for coach Mike Babcock, who can attest to the old adage about the apple not falling far from the tree. "You get to know a lot about your players just by seeing their parents," Babcock said.
There were 29 visitors on the trip who got to see the whole spectrum of NHL life, from late-night flights after a game to middle-of-the-night check-ins at luxury hotels to the Wings' power play and penalty-killing meetings to the morning skate. One night the players presented their guests with a video tribute with each player explaining the importance of their father/mentor. Of course a trip like this is bound to make some people feel left out.
"My mom is bitter," acknowledged netminder Manny Legace whose dad, Manny Sr., was in attendance. When Legace was playing junior hockey in Niagara Falls and his father was working at the trucking company for whom he still works, it was Legace's mother who regularly made the trip from the family home north of Toronto to see Legace play. Said Manny Sr.: "I told Mr. Holland [GM Ken Holland], if you see my wife, run."