It wasn't long ago that the Boston Bruins were near the top of the Eastern Conference. Now, they are very close to the bottom of the Northeast Division.
Boston hopes to avoid its first seven-game losing streak in more than a decade on Monday when it hosts Ilya Kovalchuk and the Atlanta Thrashers in the back end of a home-and-home series.
The Bruins (18-16-4) entered their game against Ottawa on Dec. 15 with 39 points, the second-highest total in the conference at that point. A 3-2 loss that night triggered a six-game skid (0-5-1) that has put Boston out of the top eight in the East and only two points ahead of last-place Toronto in the Northeast.
A loss in this game would leave the Bruins with their first seven-game losing streak since March 17-April 3, 1997.
Goaltending continues to be a major concern for the Bruins, who began this season expecting offseason acquisition Manny Fernandez to assume the No. 1 role. Fernandez, though, only played four games and underwent knee surgery earlier this month, which likely will sideline him the rest of the season.
Tim Thomas has played well for the most part, but he is 0-2-1 with a 3.49 goals-against average in four appearances after missing six games with a groin injury. Recent acquisition Alex Auld was very good in Thomas' absence, but he has lost his last three starts.
Auld allowed three goals on 13 first-period shots before he was replaced by Thomas at the start of the second in a 5-0 loss at Atlanta on Saturday.
"We are all trying to turn this around," Auld said. "Obviously you want to do what you can to help your team get a win. It wasn't enough tonight. We have to stay together. We can't get frustrated."
The Bruins are still without center Patrice Bergeron and right wing Glen Murray - two of their best offensive players. Bergeron hasn't played since suffering a concussion against Philadelphia on Oct. 27, and Murray has missed the last four games with a hip flexor.
Those absences have contributed to an offense that has scored only six goals in the last four games.
"Throughout the season you are going to go through some tough times," Bruins coach Claude Julien told the team's official Web site. "Obviously, we are going through those tough times (now)."
Ending the skid against Atlanta (19-19-1) won't be easy because the Bruins have lost seven of the last eight meetings. The Bruins have always had trouble containing Kovalchuk, who has six goals and two assists in his last five games against them.
Kovalchuk scored his league-leading 32nd goal and Kari Lehtonen stopped 26 shots in Saturday's victory, the Thrashers' fifth in seven games.
"It was important for us to establish the pace of the game early on and the guys came out and did a tremendous job," Atlanta coach Don Waddell said.
Kovalchuk has scored 29.3 percent of Atlanta's 109 goals this season, leaving him just shy of being on pace to break the NHL record set by Florida's Pavel Bure (29.5 percent) in 2000-01.
Lehtonen is 5-0-0 with one shutout and a 1.77 GAA in his last five starts against the Bruins.