The Atlanta Thrashers are in first place in the Southeast Division with one of the NHL's best records despite poor play on special teams. Correcting that problem could be key to their long-term success.
Atlanta looks to rebound from arguably its most disappointing loss of the season Tuesday when it hosts the New Jersey Devils in a matchup of division leaders.
With a visit Sunday from league-worst Philadelphia, which had lost nine in a row, the Thrashers (28-16-8) figured to be on their way to a third straight win.
Atlanta, however, failed to capitalize on six power-play opportunities and the Flyers scored once with the man advantage in a surprising 2-1 victory.
"Our special teams just didn't give us a chance to win today's game," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "It gives confidence to the other team, all those power-play situations we didn't score; it gave (Flyers goaltender) Antero Niittymaki life, energy and he came up large for them in the third period."
Most disappointing for Atlanta was its inability to score on a two-man advantage for nearly two minutes early in the second period.
"Same old story. Special teams killed us again," Atlanta's Scott Mellanby said. "They had a power-play goal and we didn't score on a power play. We were 5-on-3 for almost 2 minutes. It's just frustrating."
The Thrashers are scoreless on 18 consecutive power-play chances over the past four games, and have converted only four of their last 50 opportunities. They rank 23rd on the power play and 25th in penalty killing.
Marian Hossa is second in the NHL with 15 power-play goals and Ilya Kovalchuk is also among the league leaders with 11, but Atlanta lacks a true quarterback on its power play. Its top scoring defenseman is Greg de Vries, whose 15 points puts him 66th among NHL blueliners.
The Thrashers have won six of seven against the Atlantic Division-leading Devils (30-15-5) with Hossa and Kovalchuk each playing a big part in that success. Hossa has five goals and five assists in that span, while Kovalchuk has three goals and six assists during a six-game point streak against New Jersey.
The Devils had a five-game road win streak snapped Saturday with a 4-2 loss to Florida. Brian Gionta and defenseman John Oduya scored for New Jersey, which dropped to 11-2-2 in its last 15 games.
Martin Brodeur stopped 28 of 31 shots one night after turning aside 28 in his league-leading ninth shutout, a 2-0 win over Tampa Bay.
"There are ways to lose," Brodeur said. "With back-to-back games, the effort was there. It wasn't meant to be. But this wasn't a bad loss. I thought we competed."
Brodeur had lost seven straight starts against Atlanta - three coming after regulation - before making 25 saves in a 2-1 home victory on Jan. 12. He is 13-6-3 with three ties, four shutouts and a 2.01 goals-against average in 25 starts versus the Thrashers.
While Gionta has goals in three straight games, captain Patrik Elias has gone 10 consecutive contests without scoring. Elias was held without a point in his last meeting with the Thrashers after he had four goals and five assists during a five-game point streak against them.
Atlanta has scored 15 goals in three straight home wins over the Devils.