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Sabres start 14-day trip with visit to Atlanta

by John McGourty

SABRES (28-11-5) at THRASHERS (20-19-6)

Last 10
-- Buffalo 7-1-2; Atlanta 2-6-2

Season series -- The teams have split two meetings at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The Thrashers won 4-2 on Oct. 17 when Ilya Kovalchuk scored twice and Johan Hedberg (11-2-1 against the Sabres) made 40 saves. The Sabres rallied from three goals down to beat the Thrashers 4-3 on Jan. 1 when Derek Roy's hard-around bounced off a stanchion and into the Thrashers' unattended net 4:05 into overtime after Hedberg went behind his net to play the puck. The teams meet again in Atlanta on March 16. Atlanta was 4-0-0 against Buffalo last season and is 12-3-3 all-time against the Sabres at home.

Team Scope:

Sabres -- There are many reasons why the Sabres lead the Northeast Division and are the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. These include the NHL's best goaltender, season-long good health and numerous players playing to their potential. But they've also been helped by playing the fewest road games in the East. That comes to an end as the Sabres embark on a seven-game, 14-day road trip. That won't help them catch the Devils, whom they trail by five points, but it shouldn't cause concern about their 10-point lead over the Boston Bruins in the Northeast. The Sabres are 12-2-3 in their past 17 games and 6-0-2 in their past eight.

Thrashers -- The Thrashers, 2-7-3 in their last 12 games, are trying to right the ship and they made a good start by beating the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night, despite having only five defensemen for the last 56 minutes of the game. Kovalchuk is fifth in the NHL with 26 goals and 11th with 50 points. Buffalo castoff Maxim Afinogenov is next with 40 points but has only one point in the past four games. Hedberg has gone cold since the fluke Buffalo goal, but his career stats against the Sabres make him the likely selection in net.

Who's hot -- Buffalo's Tim Connolly has 12 points in seven games. Jochen Hecht has six points in five games. Drew Stafford has six points in six games. Goalie Ryan Miller is 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage. Kovalchuk has 13 points in 10 games. Center Jim Slater has 4 points in four games. Defenseman Pavel Kubina has 4 points in four games.

Injury report
-- Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen has missed the entire season since September back surgery but he is nearing a return. Defenseman Mark Popovic has missed 18 games with a broken foot. Center Nik Antropov has missed four games with a hip injury, but and practiced Wednesday so he'll probably play. Center Todd White injured his knee Tuesday and did not practice Wednesday. … Buffalo right wing Patrick Kaleta has missed six games with a leg injury and is day-to-day.

Stat pack -- Atlanta is second in the NHL with 315 takeaways. Buffalo is 23rd with 124. Buffalo scores 1.13 goals for every goal the opponent scores in 5-on-5 play while Atlanta scores 0.94. Buffalo is one of four NHL teams that haven't lost when leading after the second period. Atlanta is last in the NHL with only 306 hits. Buffalo is 23rd with 421 hits. Atlanta is 25th with 245 blocked shots. Buffalo is 11th with 304.

Puck drop -- "Other teams look at you and say, boy, this team's going on the road for an extended period of time and we should be able to pick up some ground. We'd like to send the message that we don't want anyone to pick up any ground on us. We want to play above .500 on the road." -- Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.

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