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Less than two weeks ago, the Atlanta Thrashers raised their first division title banner. On Thursday night, a new coach will try to guide them to their first win of the season.
With general manager Don Waddell having replaced the fired Bob Hartley, the Thrashers will try to end a 10-game skid dating to the playoffs when they meet the New York Rangers at Philips Arena in a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Under Hartley last season, Atlanta set club records with 43 wins and 97 points in winning the Southeast Division for the first time in franchise history. In the playoffs, though, the Thrashers were outscored 17-6 en route to being swept by the sixth-seeded Rangers.
Atlanta (0-6-0) opened this season with a 3-1 loss to Washington on Oct. 5 and remained the NHL's lone winless team after falling 4-0 to Philadelphia on Tuesday in what turned out to be Hartley's last game after 5 1-2 years with the team. On Wednesday, Waddell said the coaching change was the shakeup Atlanta needed as it tries to avoid becoming the first team since Chicago in 1997-98 to lose seven straight in regulation at the start of a season.
"We believe that a new approach is necessary to get the club back on track and compete at the level we feel we are capable of," he told the Thrashers' official Web site, adding there was no timetable for hiring a replacement.
Waddell, who's been with the club as general manager since its inception, will have his work cut out for him. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen - selected second overall in the 2002 draft - has a 4.72 goals-against average this season, while journeyman Johan Hedberg owns a 4.29 GAA.
The Thrashers also have scored a league-low nine goals, three coming from star Ilya Kovalchuk. Marian Hossa has been unable to follow up on his career-best 100-point season in 2006-07. The right wing, who missed three games earlier this month with a groin injury, has one goal for his only point so far.
Hossa had three goals and five assists to help Atlanta go 3-1-0 against New York in the 2006-07 regular season, but managed one assist in the playoffs.
"We know we're in a deep hole, but the good thing is that it's just the beginning of the season," he said. "You can't blame the coach for everything. But it's always easier to replace the coach than 22 players."
While the Rangers (2-3-0) haven't played as poorly as Atlanta, they've still been struggling. After opening the season on Oct. 4 with a 5-2 win over Florida, New York has scored five goals in four games.
The Rangers were nearly shut out by Ottawa on Saturday for the second time this month, but Jaromir Jagr scored his first goal of the season with 1:09 to play in a 3-1 loss.
"You can't kid yourself into wins," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "We practice hard, we prepare well, we do all of those things but it seems right now we're looking for that game traction."
Jagr had two goals and five assists in the playoff series against the Thrashers.
First-year Rangers Chris Drury and Scott Gomez both have gotten off to slow starts. Drury has only one assist in his last four games, while Gomez has a goal and an assist after being held scoreless in his first three games.
New York also will need a better effort from Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed all three goals to Ottawa in a 52-second span on Saturday. Including the playoffs, Lundqvist was 5-1-2 with a 2.11 GAA against the Thrashers last season.