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Devils-Thrashers Preview @NHL

The NHL season is already two weeks old. The Atlanta Thrashers might be wishing it hadn't started yet.

The Thrashers hope to avoid remaining the only Eastern Conference team without a victory on Saturday night when they host another struggling team - the New Jersey Devils.

Expectations have been raised for the Thrashers after they finished with a franchise-record 97 points last season and made the playoffs for the first time.

However, with no major additions in the offseason and the departures of Keith Tkachuk, Scott Mellanby, Jon Sim, Andy Sutton and Greg de Vries, Atlanta could be hard pressed to repeat last season's success.

After losing their first three games by relatively close scores, the Thrashers (0-4-0) were embarrassed with a 6-0 loss Thursday at Buffalo. They've scored a league-low four goals.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 15 of 20 shots over two periods Thursday before he was replaced by Johan Hedberg to start the third. Lehtonen, though, didn't receive much support from his teammates, who were outshot 20-8 over the first 40 minutes.

"Right now we're not playing good hockey," coach Bob Hartley said. "We're so tight and anxious to get that first win that we forget to do the right things."

Making matters worse for Hartley's team is the absence of star forward Marian Hossa, who missed his second straight game with a groin injury. Hossa, who had team highs of 43 goals and 57 assists last season, is day-to-day.

Hossa's absence has put more pressure on Atlanta's other star - left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, the team leader with only two points.

Kovalchuk has five goals and five assists during a seven-game point streak against the Devils.

The Thrashers, who have given up 17 goals, are off to their worst start since losing their first nine games (0-8-1) in 2002-03.

Atlanta plays two of its next three games at home before starting a seven-game road trip Oct. 20 against Tampa Bay.

The Devils (1-3-0) have had trouble generating offense in their first four games under new coach Brent Sutter, totaling only seven goals.

New Jersey was shut out for the first time this season Thursday in a 3-0 loss at Florida.

The Devils are off to their worst start since 2001-02, when they opened 0-3-1.

"The guys are competing and playing hard," Sutter said. "It's always tough to lose. Don't get me wrong, this losing is brutal. You've just got to deal with it."

Although he has a very respectable 2.68 goals-against average, Martin Brodeur is winless this season. Backup Kevin Weekes was in net for New Jersey's lone victory - 4-1 at Florida last Saturday.

This is the first time since 2001-02 that Brodeur has opened a season with three consecutive losses.

"We've had trouble defensively, but today was not too bad," Brodeur said after Thursday's loss. "We didn't put the puck in the net tonight. If it's not something, it's the other."

Brodeur is 13-6-4 with three ties, four shutouts and a 2.08 GAA in 26 starts against Atlanta.

While the Thrashers can look to home ice for support, the Devils won't have that benefit until their home opener Oct. 27 against Ottawa. The Devils play their first nine games on the road while construction is completed on their new arena.

Atlanta went 3-1-0 against New Jersey last season, winning twice in shootouts. The Thrashers have won four straight at home in the series since a 5-0 loss on March 26, 2004.

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