The Vancouver Canucks have been coming up just short through the first three games of their road trip. That's the way things have been going for them for the past month, as well.
|Roberto Luongo (center) has lost the last three games by one goal each. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
The slumping Canucks try to avoid going winless on a four-game trip Thursday when they visit the Atlanta Thrashers for the first time in nearly six years.
On Jan. 8, Vancouver (26-21-7) led the Northwest Division and was tied for the Western Conference's second-best record at 24-14-4. Since then, the Canucks have fallen to 10th place in the West and fourth in the division, five points back of Northwest-leading Minnesota.
Each of Vancouver's three losses on this trip have been by one goal. The Canucks are coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to Dallas on Tuesday that followed a 4-3 shootout defeat to Florida on Friday. They opened the trip with a 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay last Thursday.
While defenseman Sami Salo returned to the lineup Tuesday after sitting out two games with a groin injury, the Canucks' defense is still badly short-handed. Mattias Ohlund was back in Vancouver for personal reasons and Aaron Miller is out with a foot injury.
The Canucks are also without Willie Mitchell (back), Kevin Bieksa (calf) and Lukas Krajicek (shoulder), forcing youngsters into action on defense.
"It's not an excuse," said Roberto Luongo, who made 32 saves against the Stars and has been in goal for each game of the road swing. "It doesn't matter who you play back there. I wish (reporters) would stop asking me that. The young guys did a good job stepping up."
Earlier this season, Vancouver was thriving away from GM Place, with the league' fifth-best road record of 11-6-2 on Dec. 22. Since then, it has the league's second-worst road mark at 1-5-3.
The Canucks have not been swept on a road trip of at least four games since going winless on a five-game trip from Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 1997.
|Ilya Kovalchuk returned to the Thrashers lineup Tuesday and scored a goal. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Vancouver has not visited Atlanta since a 4-2 victory March 16, 2002. The Canucks have won their last two trips to Philips Arena since losing 6-3 in their first game there on Nov. 22, 1999.
The Canucks have won four of their last five over the Thrashers. The teams have not met since a 3-2 Vancouver victory Feb. 10 - their first matchup since Atlanta's 4-1 win on Feb. 13, 2004.
Markus Naslund, who scored both goals Tuesday, had a goal in last season's victory over the Thrashers. He has four goals and five assists in his last four games against them.
Luongo stopped 27 shots in the Feb. 10 matchup, but he hasn't had much success at Philips Arena lately, going 0-4-1 with a 3.81 goals-against average in his last five games there. He's 2-6-1 with one tie and a 3.22 GAA overall in Atlanta.
The Thrashers (26-26-4) lost 3-2 to Philadelphia on Tuesday, snapping their three-game winning streak. It was Atlanta's ninth straight defeat to the Flyers.
Two-time All-Star Ilya Kovalchuk returned to the Thrashers' lineup Tuesday and scored his 39th goal of the season after missing two games with a right knee injury. Despite wearing a brace on the knee, Kovalchuk said "I feel pretty good."
"I thought it was going to be worse than that," Kovalchuk said, adding the brace "didn't bother me at all."
Kari Lehtonen stopped 33 shots Tuesday after making 36 saves in Saturday's 2-0 win over Washington. Lehtonen stopped 30 shots in last season's loss to the Canucks - his only career game against them.