Will third time be the charm for Thrashers?
Wednesday, 12.30.2009 / 7:00 PMTHRASHERS (18-16-4) at BRUINS (19-12-7)
-- Atlanta 3-6-1; Boston 5-3-2
-- This is the third of four meetings this season and the Bruins won the first two. In fact, the Bruins have won the last eight meetings. The teams meet again March 23 in Atlanta. Boston won in Atlanta on Nov. 19 when Michael Ryder scored twice and Patrice Bergeron
had the shootout winner. The Bruins beat the Thrashers, 6-4, on Dec. 23 in Boston when Marc Savard
, Daniel Paille
and Vladimir Sobotka scored in the first period, leading to a wide-open game thereafter.
-- This is the Bruins' final game before they host the Philadelphia Flyers Friday in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, a game that should be the furthest thing from their minds. The Eastern Conference fifth-place Bruins are 3-3-2 in their last eight games. They trail the Northeast Division-leading Buffalo Sabres by five points and are five points ahead of the Thrashers, the Eastern Conference's eighth-place team. The Thrashers, who have lost five-straight games, trail the Washington Capitals by 14 points in the Southeast Division and have little hope of winning it. But they are among eight teams within four points fighting for the final two playoffs spots in the East.
-- Former Rocket Richard Trophy winner Ilya Kovalchuk has points in the past 10 games but the Thrashers are struggling. A big part of the problem has been their weakness in killing penalties. Atlanta has killed just 18 of their last 30 man disadvantage situations over the last nine games. Atlanta does have a strong power play, tied for sixth at 21.6 percent efficiency.
-- The Bruins are coming off one of their least-focused games of the year, in which they played a rested Lightning team the night after beating the Panthers. They were distracted by disputing several penalty calls and they were shutout until deep into the third period. They had an 0-2-2 stretch before beating the Thrashers here Dec. 23 and are still seeking the consistency and scoring of a year ago, when they romped in the Northeast Division. Boston ranks 28th in averaging 2.47 goals-per-game and that's pretty much the whole story right there.
-- Kovalchuk has goals in his past four games and six of his last seven. His center, Nik Antropov, has seven points in the past five games and right wing Maxim Afinegenov has eight points in the past six games. Bostgon's Savard, a former Thrasher, has five points in the past three games. Marco Sturm has three goals in the past four games.
-- Trashers' defenseman Mark Popovic broke his foot Dec. 9 and is out until mid-January. Goalie Kari Lehtonen underwent back surgery Sept. 16, hasn't played since and his return is indefinite. Bruins left wing Milan Lucic
, who has played only 10 games because of an Oct. 17 broken finger and Nov. 25 ankle injury, is due back soon. Defenseman Mark Stuart broke his sternum Dec. 16 and is due back in late January.
-- The Thrashers have been very good for Boston's power play. Due to the absence of center Marc Savard
, the Bruins trailed the NHL in power-play efficiency when Ryder broke the ice on Nov. 19. The Bruins ended an 0-for-13 drought against Atlanta on Dec. 23 when Savard opened the scoring with a power-play goal and Ryder and Zdeno Chara
also scored on the man advantage.
-- It looks like Milan Lucic
, who has been a big part of promoting the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, won't play in the game. He's been practicing but it looks like he's still not ready to play.
"A lot of people keep talking about the Winter Classic, the Winter Classic," Lucic said. "The only answer I really have is that we can only take it day by day. I’m not going to force myself to get back and put myself in a position where I can get injured again and sit out for another four to six weeks. I think the best thing right now is to be smart and be ready for the second half. Most of all, be ready if we do get in the playoffs for the final stretch of the season."