THRASHERS (18-17-6) at PENGUINS (26-16-1)
Atlanta 1-6-3; Pittsburgh 4-6-0
This is the second of four regular-season meetings. The Pens won, 3-2, at Philips Arena on Nov. 21 off the strength of two rare goals from defenseman Martin Skoula. Pittsburgh has won its last six overall against Atlanta, dating back to the 2007-08 season. The two clubs don’t meet again until the final week of the season in April.
The Penguins are mired in a season-high five-game losing streak. In fact, Tuesday marks the exact date in 2009 when the defending Stanley Cup champions set their season high for that year with the same number of consecutive defeats. The Thrashers are in much bigger trouble, having dropped a season-high eight straight. Atlanta has also struggled recently at The Igloo, losing its last five contests there.
The good news for Atlanta is that even an elongated losing streak is not necessarily a recipe for disaster in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference. While a 6-5 shootout defeat to the New York Islanders this past Saturday was frustrating, the Thrashers still battled back from a 3-0 first-period deficit to tie it. More importantly, their 42 points has them right in the thick of it with the Rangers, Canadiens and a few other clubs for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Pittsburgh has definitely hit a rut, but four of the last five losses came on its most recent road trip. While a 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the less potent Panthers this past Sunday is no reason to be smiling, a return to Mellon Arena for a quick two-game stop could bring a much needed jolt to a club that embarks on a five-game trek beginning on Jan 9 in Toronto and ending way out west in Vancouver on Jan. 16.
"We can do most of the little things better," veteran Bill Guerin said after Sunday’s loss. "I wouldn't say all of them but most of them. As players we have to address it, as a team and individually, (we need) a willingness to do it."
Atlanta captain Ilya Kovalchuk has made the scoresheet in 12 of his last 13 games, compiling 20 points over that span, including a goal and three assists in Saturday’s loss on Long Island. … For Pittsburgh, Jordan Staal
has one assist each in his last two games and has tallied three points over his last four games.
Thrashers defenseman Mark Popovic is out with a broken foot. Goalie Kari Lehtonen has not played yet this season due to back surgery. … Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar missed his second game in a row on Sunday after bruising his right foot blocking a shot at New Jersey last week.
Atlanta is second in the Eastern Conference with 129 goals scored this season. … The Penguins are still last in the League with a 14.4 power-play percentage.
Pittsburgh is remaining focused, knowing full well that this current bump in the road can be quickly overcome with nothing more than a couple wins in a row.
"We can't start second-guessing or make excuses, we have to work through it," captain Sidney Crosby
said after Sunday’s loss. "It's just a bad stretch we're in, but if we keep working hard and not let it get to us, we'll be OK."