ISLANDERS (10-10-7) at THRASHERS (14-7-3)
Last 10 - New York 4-4-2; Atlanta 7-1-2
Season series - It's the second meeting between the teams, and the Islanders' first visit of the season to Philips Arena. The Islanders played one of their best games of the season - and the Thrashers perhaps their worst - in New York's 6-3 victory at the Nassau Coliseum on Nov. 7.
Big story - Atlanta coach John Anderson ripped his team after the loss on Long Island, terming the performance "embarrassing." The Thrashers, who got All-Star forward Ilya Kovalchuk back a few days after the Long Island loss, have been on a tear since then. They've won their last four and are fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The Islanders have 27 points in 27 games - not bad for a team that finished last overall with just 61 points in 2008-09. Their defense has struggled, but rookie John Tavares (10-11-21) has been everything the Islanders could have asked and has brought some life back to Long Island.
Islanders - The Isles have gotten competent goaltending from Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. But the 800-pound gorilla in the room is the impending return of Rick DiPietro, who hasn't played since the first week of 2009 due to a knee problem that required surgery. "DP" is expected to start a rehab assignment at AHL Bridgeport as soon as this weekend and could be back in an Islanders uniform before Christmas.
If DiPietro is fully healthy - and no one is saying how long it will take to determine that -- it will be interesting to see how the Isles handle their goaltending. Roloson (8-2-5, 2.80 goals-against average) has outplayed Biron (2-8-2, 3.04 GAA) and has a two-year deal, compared with a one-year pact for Biron.
Thrashers - Maxim Afinogenov came to Atlanta shortly before the season after falling out of favor in Buffalo. All he's done with the Thrashers is become the kind of offensive force that keeps opponents from ganging up on Kovalchuk. Afinogenov already has 11 goals in 24 games, nearly twice as many as he had in 48 games with Buffalo in 2008-09, and scored the game-winner with 5.5 seconds remaining Monday night to beat Florida.
At age 30, he's enjoying a career revival.
"It's a lot of fun, winning the game and being here, playing with these guys," Afinogenov said. "It's unbelievable... I just try to do my job and put my best effort where I can in the game."
Who's hot - Afinogenov has 2 goals and 3 assists during a four-game points streak. … Kovalchuk has 15 goals and 25 points in just 18 games. … Atlanta's Zach Bogosian leads all NHL defenseman with 8 goals. … Roloson is 3-1-1 in his last five starts and has stopped 77 of the last 82 shots he's faced. Josh Bailey, the Isles' other young center (first round in 2008) has 7 goals, matching his total for all of last season.
Injury report - The Islanders are thin on defense after losing Andy Sutton to a groin injury last Friday. They hope to get captain Doug Weight (upper-body injury) back later this month. Center Frans Nielsen (upper-body) and forward Richard Park (undisclosed) wore non-contact jerseys at practice this week. … The Thrashers are healthy, with the exception of goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who's recovering from back surgery.
Stat pack - Atlanta is 10-0-0 when getting the first goal. The Thrashers have won every home game in which they've had a lead. … Atlanta has outscored opponents 38-13, the most goals and biggest margin of any team. … The Islanders are struggling on the power play, going 1-for-28 in their last seven games.
Puck drop - The Thrashers are on target for the best season in their history, and they figure to be looking to avenge their dreadful showing on Long Island last month. The Islanders are playing the second of a five-game trip that's part of a 12-in-14 stretch away from the Nassau Coliseum.