The Buffalo Sabres and the Atlanta Thrashers are both atop their respective divisions and appear headed for the playoffs. That doesn't mean each team isn't experiencing its fair share of problems.
Both clubs look to rebound from disappointing losses Tuesday when they meet at Philips Arena.
It seemed like the Thrashers (29-18-8) would coast to the Southeast Division title just a couple weeks ago, but they have lost three of four and are only 5-6-0 in their past 11 games. That slump has allowed red-hot Tampa Bay to pull within six points of the division lead.
"We're still in first place and need to get these games," Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk said. "Buffalo is six or eight points ahead of us. We beat them once, they beat us once. It's going to be a big game here."
Buffalo (35-15-4) has also been struggling with a 4-6-1 mark in its last 11 games. Although the Sabres have a comfortable 10-point lead over Montreal in the Northeast Division, their lead in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference has been sliced to four points over surging New Jersey.
Most disappointing for Atlanta is two of its last three losses have come at home to league-worst Philadelphia. The Thrashers allowed four unanswered third-period goals Saturday in a 5-2 loss to the Flyers.
"We've lost two games out of the last four to the worst team in the National Hockey League," Atlanta's Bobby Holik said. "It's not just the third period. We've got problems."
One area of concern for Atlanta is a power play that has converted only three time - all in a shootout loss to the Devils on Jan. 30 - on 27 opportunities in the first five games of a six-game homestand.
"Our biggest problem is our power play," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "Our power play isn't generating, and that's where you can put teams away."
While Atlanta's power play is struggling, Kovalchuk hasn't been. The Russian star has seven goals in his last six games and 30 this season to move within one of Marian Hossa for the team lead.
Buffalo's biggest problem of late has been a failure to protect third-period leads. The Sabres have lost four of six despite holding a one-goal lead in the final 20 minutes in three of them.
Saturday's 3-2 loss at New Jersey dropped Buffalo to 26-4-2 when leading after two periods. The four losses is tied with Ottawa for most in the NHL, and the Sabres' 63 goals allowed in the third period is the league's fourth-highest total.
"It's frustrating, there's no doubt about that," co-captain Daniel Briere said. "It's definitely something we need to fix, especially going down the stretch, going into the playoffs."
Center Chris Drury matched the career high he set last season with his 30th goal Saturday. He has seven goals in his last seven games.
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller has lost three straight starts overall and four in a row on the road.
These teams have split two games this season, but this is the first matchup in Atlanta. The Thrashers had won three straight in the series before a 4-1 loss at Buffalo on Dec. 30.