The Atlanta Thrashers snapped a five-game losing streak in their last game. They avoided another loss that could have been far more costly.
Ilya Kovalchuk, the NHL's second-leading goal scorer, will miss Friday's home game against the Buffalo Sabres, but an MRI on Thursday was only precautionary and Kovalchuk could return as early as next week.
Kovalchuk leads the Thrashers (24-25-4) with 38 goals and 64 points, but Atlanta will need to find another source of offense against the Sabres (23-21-6), who have scored 18 goals in three games against the Thrashers this season.
Even with Kovalchuk active for most of their five-game skid, Atlanta had been struggling offensively before a 4-1 win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The Thrashers totaled just six goals in the five games.
|Drew Stafford scored a hat trick in the Sabres' last meeting with the Thrashers, a 10-1 drubbing. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
"We're going to need other guys to chip in, there's no doubt about it," said Thrashers general manager and coach Don Waddell, whose club is in a tight battle with Carolina and Washington for the Southeast Division lead. "But we've said all along we can't rely on one or two guys to score all your goals."
Waddell's team won't be without its Russian star for long. Kovalchuk was injured in the second period of Wednesday's win when Penguins' left wing Jarkko Ruutu instigated a knee-on-knee hit for which he was ejected.
Atlanta's Steve McCarthy punched Ruutu in defense of his teammate. Kovalchuk tried to play another shift, but couldn't and headed straight to the locker room.
"You can't keep him off the ice," Waddell said. "He was determined to come out and at least test it."
On Thursday, Kovalchuk was walking without a limp and the knee showed no swelling. He'll miss Friday's game and Saturday's trip to Washington before being re-evaluated.
Kovalchuk scored in the first period Wednesday to snap a five-game goal drought.
The Sabres have had their own problems offensively, scoring two or goals fewer in 12 of the last 15 games. However, they won their third in a row Wednesday - all on the road - beating Florida 1-0.
Thomas Vanek scored on the power play to end Buffalo's streak of 39 straight road power plays without a goal.
Buffalo has been one of the league's streakiest teams, with four winning streaks and four losing streaks of at least three games each. Their current run follows a stretch in which they lost 12 of 13, including 10 in a row.
Before that slide, they had won six straight.
"We're going to continue to climb," Vanek said. "We got ourselves in a hole, now we've got to get out of it."
|Ryan Miller has allowed just three goals during the three-game winning streak. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
Against Florida, Ryan Miller made 32 saves for his second shutout of the season. Miller has been outstanding during the current win streak, allowing three goals in three games.
His first shutout came in a 6-0 win over the Thrashers on Oct. 11. The Sabres have outscored the Thrashers 16-1 in two home victories this season, but they lost 5-2 on Jan. 6 in their only visit to Philips Arena.
Drew Stafford and Derek Roy had hat tricks in the teams' most recent meeting, a 10-1 Buffalo win Jan. 18 that snapped the Sabres' 10-game losing streak. Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg was pulled in that game after allowing seven goals in just over a period and a half.
"This feeling is something I don't want to feel again," Hedberg said after Atlanta allowed the highest goal total in franchise history.
Kari Lehtonen, Atlanta's winning goalie against the Penguins, hasn't fared much better against the Sabres, with a 7.16 goals-against average and eight goals allowed in two appearances this season.