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by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers
The Atlanta Thrashers are in distinct company - near the top of the Eastern Conference and struggling against the Philadelphia Flyers.

After their second loss in three games, the Thrashers look to beat the Flyers for the first time this season when they meet at Philips Arena on Saturday.

Atlanta (29-17-8) fell to third place in the East, two points behind New Jersey, after losing 5-2 to the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

The Thrashers now face the Flyers (12-32-7), who are 7-0-1 against Atlanta since a 4-1 loss on Dec. 21, 2003. Philadelphia is 16-4-6 against Atlanta overall, including 8-2-3 at Philips Arena.

Philadelphia, which has an NHL-worst 31 points, has played Atlanta twice this season and won both times. The Flyers have two wins over only one other team, going 2-2-0 against the Islanders.

Goaltender Antero Niittymaki improved to 5-0-0 against the Thrashers after stopping 37 shots in the Flyers' 2-1 win at Atlanta on Sunday. The Thrashers lost 3-2 in overtime at Philadelphia on Oct. 26 as Niittymaki made 28 saves.

Niittymaki has a career 1.77 goals-against average against Atlanta.

The Thrashers are 1-2-0 - their opponents are 4-for-9 on the power play in that span - since winning four of five.

"There's no easy points," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "You have to work for your games."

Atlanta has failed to score a power-play goal in five of six games, going a combined 3-for-30. The Thrashers blew a 5-on-3 opportunity Thursday.

"I got a lot of chances," said Atlanta forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who is second on the team with 13 power-play goals. "I need to shoot 100 percent."

Kovalchuk failed to get on the scoresheet Thursday after scoring six goals in his previous four games. He has 11 goals and 20 points in 18 games against the Flyers.

Philadelphia has tied a season high by earning a point in three straight games (1-0-2). The Flyers went 3-0-0 from Dec. 28-Jan. 2.

Philadelphia, though, gave up a good opportunity for a win Thursday night against New Jersey, allowing the tying goal with 32 seconds left in regulation before losing 6-5 in overtime.

"I just don't know what it is for us to get over the hump," Flyers forward Mike Knuble said. "We're doing a lot of the right things, it's just one little thing at the end that gets us."

Peter Forsberg had a goal and two assists, and seems to be skating near-trouble-free in two games since using a new orthotic sake to give his surgically repaired foot some relief.

The Flyers have delayed talks of a contract extension for Forsberg, or a possible trade of the star center, until his foot situation is settled. Forsberg also scored in his previous game, giving him goals in back-to-back contests for the first time since a home-and-home series with the New York Rangers in the first week of the season.

Alexandre Picard set a Flyers record for rookies Thursday with five assists. The defenseman had been scoreless in 19 games and came in with two goals and six assists in 36 games this season.

"Some of those goals, I didn't have anything to do with," said Picard, who fell one assist short of Eric Lindros'' team record set in 1997.
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