The Atlanta Thrashers were in the midst of a dreadful start to the season when they first faced the New Jersey Devils. Now, the Thrashers are a team on the rise.
Hoping Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa continue their red-hot play, the Thrashers look to tie the longest winning streak in franchise history when they host the Devils on Friday.
The Thrashers (11-10-0) are seeking their eighth win in nine games and fifth in a row - a club record achieved four times, most recently from Feb. 26-March 8.
It's a far different story from when Atlanta lost 6-5 at home to the Devils on Oct. 13 on Patrik Elias' power-play goal with 28 seconds left. That was the fifth game of the Thrashers' six-game slide to open the season.
"The puck ends up in your net when things aren't going right," Atlanta center Todd White said. "We worked ourselves out of it."
Since general manager Don Waddell replaced Bob Hartley as coach, the Thrashers have gone 11-4-0 to move above .500 for the first time this season.
Kovalchuk and Hossa have made the biggest difference.
Kovalchuk has 13 goals and eight assists in nine games this month, including two goals and two assists in a 5-1 road win over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday. Kovalchuk's 19 goals lead the NHL.
This is the first of three games remaining in November for the Thrashers as Kovalchuk tries to break the team record for most goals in one month. His 13 have tied the mark set by Dany Heatley in January 2003 and matched by Kovalchuk in November 2005.
The left wing has five goals and seven assists during his four-game point streak. Kovalchuk has 11 goals and six assists in 18 career games against New Jersey, with at least one point each of the last eight meetings.
Kovalchuk "has a great passion for winning hockey games," Waddell said, "and the other players are feeding off that."
Hossa has six goals and seven assists during a franchise record-tying run of six straight multipoint games. He had just three goals and three assists in 12 games before that streak began.
The veteran right wing missed the first meeting with the Devils because of a sore groin, but has nine goals and six assists in his last 13 games against them.
Also providing a lift recently for the Thrashers is Johan Hedberg, who is 6-0-0 with a 2.11 goals-against average in seven appearances since losing at Nashville on Oct. 25. He has won all three of his home starts this season.
Hedberg, though, has lost each of his last four games versus the Devils, falling to 2-4-0 with a 2.62 GAA in six appearances against them.
In the other net, Martin Brodeur will try to hold the opposition to two goals or fewer for the ninth time in 11 games.
Brodeur stopped 25 shots on Wednesday as the Devils (9-10-2) won their third straight road game, 2-1 over Pittsburgh.
"What can you say?" said Zach Parise, who scored both of New Jersey's goals on the power play. "Some of the saves he made were unbelievable. That's why he is the best right there."
Brodeur is 14-6-4 with three ties and a 2.19 goals-against average in 27 starts against Atlanta, but he is 2-4-4 with a 3.34 GAA in the last 10 meetings.
Brodeur said no longer having the distraction of trying to reach the 500-career win milestone, achieved Saturday at Philadelphia, has helped the veteran netminder regain his focus.
"Every time I'd go somewhere before, it (No. 500) was brought up to me," said Brodeur, who is 50 wins shy of Patrick Roy's all-time record of 551. "Now that I got it in the books, it's definitely nice. There's bigger and better things ahead, but that won't be for a while. Right now I can just play hockey and we can just try to get back on the right track."