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Lehtonen faces old mates as Thrashers visit Dallas

by John Kreiser /
THRASHERS (22-17-7) at STARS (26-13-5)

TV -- FS-South (HD): TXA-21 (HD)

Last 10 -- Atlanta 3-5-2; Dallas 5-3-2

Season series -- It's the only meeting of the season and the first since Dec. 17, 2009, when the Thrashers won 6-5 in overtime at home. Atlanta hasn't visited the American Airlines Center since losing 2-0 on Jan. 27, 2009.

Big story -- The early-season success of the Thrashers and Stars, both of whom missed the playoffs last season, has been among the big stories in the NHL this season. But while the Stars continue to thrive -- they lead the Pacific Division -- the Thrashers are starting to struggle. Friday night's 5-2 home loss to Philadelphia dropped them to 3-6-2 in their last 11 games, and they're getting dangerously close to dropping out of the top eight in the East.

Team Scope:

Thrashers -- Atlanta had a 1-0 lead and was in a 2-2 tie with Philadelphia late in the game when the Flyers found another gear, scoring three late goals to leave the Thrashers searching for answers again.

"We have to stay positive," forward Chris Thorburn said. "We're a good team and we know that. The effort was there tonight and it's kind of a letdown when we don't come away with two points but there were a lot of good tings that happened there -- just a couple of breakdowns."

The problem is that the breakdowns have become more numerous. The Thrashers haven't won in regulation since Dec. 20 and haven't allowed fewer than three goals since a 3-2 shootout win against Boston on Dec. 30.

Stars -- After 29 games in 57 days, the Stars were more than happy to get a three-day break between Tuesday's 3-2 victory against Edmonton and Saturday's visit from the Thrashers. It's their first three-day break in two months.

"It's definitely a rest for your mind," goalie Kari Lehtonen, who will be facing his former team for the first time since being dealt to Dallas late last season, told the team's website. "Games are tougher for your mind, you have to be ready all the time. It's definitely something we were looking forward to. You can try some new things at practice, too. You have a couple of more days to get back to game mode. It's a good thing to have and I think it makes everybody fresher once we start playing again."

Who's hot -- All-Star defenseman Tobias Enstrom had an assist on Friday and has 8 points during a five-game scoring streak. … Dallas center Brad Richards, who's also an All-Star, has a goal and 7 assists in his last five games. James Neal has goals in each of Dallas' last two games, including the game-winner against Edmonton.

Injury report -- Atlanta forward Freddy Modin is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Forward Jim Slater (concussion) is on injured reserve, but Evander Kane (lower body) returned Friday. Forward Ben Eager is serving a four-game suspension. … Dallas forward Toby Petersen (leg) is on IR and defenseman Matt Niskanen is out with a hand injury, but defenseman Karlis Skrastins is ready to return from a concussion.

Stat pack -- Luckily for the Thrashers, they don't see the Stars often. Dallas has won 10 of the 12 meetings since the Thrashers joined the NHL in 1999 and has failed to get a point just once.

Puck drop -- Dallas has just six games in the next 20 days, which should be good news for Lehtonen, who has played 33 games. The oft-injured goaltender has played more than 48 games just once in his NHL career.

He's tried to play down his first meeting with the team that made him the No. 2 pick in the 2002 Entry Draft, but there's no question it will be an emotional night for the 27-year-old Finn -- who admits he circled the date when the schedule came out.

"Now it's here, so it's going to be exciting," he told the Dallas Morning News. "But it's still just one game. Two points there -- that's what we try to get."

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