GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (19-18-3-2) at San Jose Sharks (17-10-11-4).
TIME: Saturday, 4 p.m. EST.
Few expected a January meeting between the Atlanta Thrashers and the San
Jose Sharks to feature two first-place teams.
The way the Thrashers are going, they may not be there much longer.
Atlanta looks to end a season-high five-game losing streak when it faces San
Jose at HP Pavilion.
Only the Thrashers' residence in the mediocre Southeast Division is keeping
them in first place. Just one game above .500 with 43 points, Atlanta would be
a fourth-place team if it was in four of the NHL's other five divisions.
Atlanta was held to one goal for the second consecutive game in their latest
loss, 2-1 at Dallas on Thursday.
"They're an experienced team and they're tough to play against," said
Ronald Petrovicky, who had the Thrashers' only goal. "We made a couple of
mental mistakes there in the first period and it cost us a goal. That's the way
it is lately. We have to be focused for 60 minutes."
One of the highest-scoring teams in the league with 122 goals, Atlanta has
been held to two goals or fewer in seven of the last 11 games. Already missing
star forward Dany Heatley, the Thrashers played Thursday without first-line
center Marc Savard, who was scratched with a concussion.
Goaltender Pasi Nurminen hasn't been nearly as sharp as he was earlier this
season, going 4-9-0 with a 3.39 goals-against average in his last 13 games. He
was 11-5-3 with a 2.43 mark in his first 19 appearances.
San Jose's franchise-record, 11-game home unbeaten streak came to an end
Thursday with a 3-2 overtime loss to Columbus.
Scott Thornton forced the extra period by scoring his second goal of the
night with 57 seconds left in regulation, as the Sharks earned a point for the
12th straight home game (7-0-4-1).
"We didn't respect them the way we should," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said.
"The worst thing that happened was we scored on the first shift, and we
started playing a one-on-one game that's outside of our normal game. We ended
up getting exactly what we deserved."
After San Jose missed the playoffs in 2002-03 for the first time since
1996-97, little was expected from the rebuilding team this season. However, a
commitment to defense, combined with strong goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov and
Vesa Toskala has the Sharks atop the Pacific Division halfway through the
"I knew this would be a good hockey team," Wilson said. "The evolution of
players, that in no way surprises me at all."