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Revamped Thrashers visit Edmonton

by Matthew Mankiewich

THRASHERS (25-24-10) at OILERS (18-32-8)

TV -- FS-South (HD), SNET-West (HD)

Last 10 -- Atlanta 2-6-2, Edmonton 3-7-0

Season series -- It's one-and-done for these two, who haven't met in more than a year. Their last meeting, a 3-2 Atlanta win at Philips Arena on Nov. 15, 2009, was won by a Thrashers team with quite a different look from the one that comes to Rexall Place on Saturday. None of the three stars of that game are currently with the team -- Slava Kozlov is in the KHL, Johan Hedberg is in New Jersey and Rich Peverley was traded to Boston on Thursday.

Big story -- Given how the Thrashers have dropped from playoff contenders to outsiders by losing 13 of 16 games, fans were getting anxious about the team getting some trade-deadline help. Let the debate begin, as Peverley, one of Atlanta's most dependable forwards, was packaged with minor-league defenseman Boris Valabik to the Bruins for forward Blake Wheeler and defenseman Mark Stuart. Both newcomers will try to help their team avoid their first five-game road losing streak in more than a year and keep pace with the eighth-seeded Hurricanes.

The Oilers are doing a good job of playing spoiler this week. They threw wrenches in both the Stars' and Canadiens' playoff-drive works with 4-1 wins, and after a quick two-game road trip out to Minnesota and Colorado, welcome the Blues, Bruins, Predators and Blue Jackets -- all of whom are either maintaining position or trying to get back into their respective races.

Team scope

Thrashers -- General Manager Rick Dudley was clear on his willingness to shake things up as the Thrashers nose-dived through the Eastern Conference standings, and he's made a move.

"What is most important for us is that it's a deal that will help us right now. We're in the playoff hunt," Dudley said on NHL Network's "Power Play" program. "It will also help us in the future. Both guys know our coach and it should be a pretty good match," referring to coach Craig Ramsay's prior tenure as a Boston assistant.

"We've liked these players for some time," he elaborated. "Blake is a 6-foot-5-inch guy who is very fast and also has skills. He can play all three forward positions and can play them very effectively. He was drafted as a center and big centers are hard to come by these days.

"Both can kill penalties, and our penalty kill needed a shot in the arm, so I hope they can help with that."

Oilers -- It's been almost a calendar year since the Oilers strung together three straight wins at Rexall Place, but with a pair of solid victories behind them, it doesn't look like an insurmountable task.

For now, coach Tom Renney is OK with having his team play the role of spoiler.

"At the end of the day that's what we have right now, to play spoiler and continue to gain respect," he said after Thursday's victory. "Especially after the three games that preceded these two that have been well-chronicled as not being very good at home. We're a proud organization, and we want to represent Edmonton and our fans the way they'd like us to, and that means hard work, flat-out hard work, and showing up every night. So we want to make sure off of games like tonight we don't get so satisfied and so fat that we just stand around and watch the next team come in and play."

Not standing around very much at all lately is goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who has stopped 60 of 62 shots in the last two games to win back-to-back games after a personal 14-game losing streak.

Who's hot -- The Bulin Wall has shored up at the right time, of course, but so has Ales Hemsky, with 6 points in his last four games. Jordan Eberle has eight points in eight games. … Tobias Enstrom and Andrew Ladd each have four points in their last four games for Atlanta. Ladd is the first Thrasher to reach the 20-goal mark this season, with a second-period score in Thursday's 4-3 loss to the Coyotes.

Injury report -- Thrashers defenseman Freddy Meyer (upper body) was placed on injured reserve Sunday, retroactive to Feb. 3. Forward Jim Slater (concussion) has missed 15 games so far with no return date set. Forward Alex Burmistrov (foot) went on IR Thursday after missing two games. … Other than defenseman Ryan Whitney's season-ending knee injury back in December, the Oilers have a clean bill of health.

Stat pack -- Khabibulin is 7-4-2 with a 2.71 GAA in 14 career starts against the Thrashers. Ondrej Pavelec has never faced the Oilers but is 0-3-1 with a 4.67 GAA in his last four road starts. … The Thrashers have not lost five in a row on the road since an 0-6-2 stretch from Dec. 16, 2009-Jan. 5, 2010. … Enstrom's two assists on Thursday tied Marian Hossa for third on the Thrashers' all-time assist list with 140 in 300 career games. … Atlanta's penalty kill is second-worst in the NHL at 76.5 percent. Only Edmonton is worse at 75.5 percent. With a man up, up, the Thrashers are a respectable eighth League-wide at 20.2 percent while the Oilers are also last at 11.8 percent.

Puck drop -- "If you get to the 28th and it stays tight then there might not be that many players available." -- Dudley on why waiting till the trade deadline to make a deal can be risky with so many teams still in contention

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