THRASHERS (24-21-8) at PREDATORS (29-21-3)
Atlanta 5-3-2; Nashville 4-6-0
First of two meetings this season -- Nashville will pay a visit to Atlanta after the Olympics, on March 9. The Predators and Thrashers split last season's series, each team winning in its opponent's arena. Ryan Suter
's overtime goal gave Nashville a 4-3 win at Philips Arena on Nov. 28, 2008, while Atlanta responded with a 7-2 victory at Sommet Center on Jan. 17, 2009.
These teams appear to be much more evenly-matched than they did a few short weeks ago. The Thrashers, who will be shooting for a three-game winning streak, entered Saturday in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, although in a logjam of epic proportions, the 13th-place Islanders are just two points behind them. The Predators, meanwhile, have fallen to seventh in the Western Conference and will be looking to end a five-game losing streak.
At this stage in the season, every win for a contending team like Atlanta shapes up to be its most important, but they don't come much bigger than Thursday's 4-3 victory in Philadelphia. The Thrashers started the third period staring down a 3-1 deficit and rallied on goals by Ilya Kovalchuk, Rich Peverley and Jim Slater. The winner by Slater was his second goal of the night.
"This was a big win against a good team in an arena we haven't been successful in the past," Slater said. "Philly is a tough place to play. It shows a lot of character to score three in the third."
The effort was certainly there Friday night at Joe Louis Arena, as Nashville outshot Detroit by a final margin of 48-29 but took a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Red Wings. Defensemen Francis Bouillon
and Shea Weber
scored for the Predators, who are now tied with their Central Division rivals with 61 points, though Nashville holds down seventh by virtue of having three more wins and one fewer game played.
"We're letting teams back in it," Suter said. "We've got to turn it around or it's going to come back and haunt."
Atlanta rookie Evander Kane assisted on both of Slater's goals Thursday and has a goal and four assists in his last five games. Peverley has four goals and two assists in his last seven games. … Weber has a goal and an assist in Nashville's last two games.
Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen, who has not played this season, is working his way into shape after back surgery. Defenseman Mark Popovic is out indefinitely with a broken foot while defenseman Christoph Schubert is on injured reserve with a knee injury. … Predators forwards Joel Ward (groin), Wade Belak (foot) and Marcel Goc (upper body) are all day-to-day.
Peverley, who broke into the League with Nashville in 2006-07 and registered seven goals and 20 points over parts of three seasons there, has seen his career take off since arriving in Atlanta. He already has a career-high 17 goals this season, and his 42 points (good for third on the Thrashers) are just two off his best total from last season.
Just as easily as the Thrashers climbed into the East's top eight, they can fall right back out with a loss Saturday and wins by a few of the teams behind them in hot pursuit. That should have John Anderson's club motivated, while the Predators don't want to see their skid go any farther.