Season series: These Southeast Division rivals meet for the third time this season and the first time in Tampa Bay. The Lightning have split a pair of games at Philips Arena, losing 6-3 in the opener for both teams on Oct. 3 and coming back for a 4-3 overtime win last month. Ondrej Pavelec was in goal for the Thrashers in both games.
Big story: Just a single point separates the sixth seed from the 10th in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta comes out of the Christmas break in possession of the No. 6 spot by virtue of having played one fewer game than Ottawa, but the Thrashers have struggled of late, in large part due to some defensive liabilities. Meanwhile, the Lightning have faded to a tie for 11th following a fast start, and need to establish some positive momentum as the second half approaches.
Thrashers: With a team goals-against average of 3.11, Atlanta currently ranks 26th in the League. None of the four teams with a worse GAA is currently in the top eight in its respective conference, and the Thrashers won't be for much longer if they don't get their act together. They come off a 6-4 loss in Boston on Wednesday that marked the fifth straight game their opponent scored at least four goals.
"At the 10-minute mark, we let down for about a minute there and we got a little discombobbled and they scored a couple of quick goals," coach John Anderson said of a stretch in the first period where the Bruins opened the scoring with three goals in a span of 68 seconds.
Lightning: After making it nearly two months into the season without failing to pick up at least a point in every game at the St. Pete Times Forum, it's now three straight losses in regulation on home ice after Tampa Bay fell 5-2 to Philadelphia on Wednesday. Zenon Konopka and Victor Hedman scored goals to lift the Lightning into a tie heading into the third, but Blair Betts and Mike Richards each scored his second of the night to spark the Flyers.
"I think we had a couple of chances there, but I think there was that one shot to decide the game, and they [the Flyers] got it," coach Rick Tocchet said. "All we needed were a couple of good passes and big plays, especially in the third period. I think now the pressure is on. You have to have that one guy who makes that one play."
Who's hot: Ilya Kovalchuk continues to state his case for a lucrative, long-term contract. The Atlanta sniper has posted five goals and seven assists during an eight-game points streak. Nik Antropov has scored five goals in as many games. Maxim Afinogenov has two goals and six assists in his last five games.
Injury report: Goalie Kari Lehtonen (back surgery) and defenseman Mark Popovic (broken foot) are out for the Thrashers. ... Defenseman Matt Walker and forwards Jeff Halpern and Todd Fedoruk are all nursing lower-body injuries for the Lightning. Walker did not play against the Flyers. Halpern and Fedoruk were both in the lineup.
Stat pack: Tobias Enstrom leads Atlanta with 26 assists and ranks third among NHL defensemen, behind only Toronto’s Tomas Kaberle (31) and Washington’s Mike Green (28). Enstrom, in his third season, is tied for 11th overall in the category.
Puck drop: "Tonight I thought we really had that momentum," Tocchet said after Wednesday’s loss. "I could feel it. I know it's there. We've got Atlanta coming in so after a loss like this I'm glad we have the next two days off. If we had won I would say let's play again tomorrow, but I think with the next few days off, we need to regroup."