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Southeast: Thrashers must make their point against division foes

by Robert Picarello

Marian Hossa, who is rumored to be traded by the deadline, has posted 17 points in his last 23 games.
Hossa highlights
To a man, the Atlanta Thrashers know they have to play better down the stretch if they are to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second year in a row. The Thrashers comes into the weekend 5-4-1 in their last 10 games, numbers that aren’t going to get it done, especially in the Southeast Division, where only six points separate first and last place.

The Thrashers have been playing better lately, especially against Southeastern teams. Atlanta has won four of its last six games and is 12-7-1 in 20 games against the Southeast this season. Atlanta has 12 games left against divisional opponents.

Marian Hossa, who has the second-most points on the Thrashers against the Southeast this season, knows how important every one those points are going to be.

"It's a pretty tight race in our division," Hossa said. "We know we can finish first easily, but then again we also know we can finish in last easily. It's so tight right now that we have to make sure we continue climbing."

In order for the Thrashers to keep climbing in the standings, Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk will have to keep scoring. The two are first and second on the team in scoring, with Kovalchuk's 65 points in 56 games leading the way. Kovalchuk is also the top producer against the Southeast, scoring 16 goals and 17 assists in 20 games, with Hossa's 12 goals and 11 assists a distant second.

With only 23 games left, the Thrashers can't afford to give away points down the stretch like they did in the beginning of the season. Atlanta was able to climb out of a deep hole after starting the season 2-8-0 in its first 10 games. Another slide like that will mean an early summer.

"We've had a rough start, but we pulled ourselves out from the hole we were in," Hossa said. "We had some great games and some bad games, but all those are behind us now. We tried to slowly raise our level, and right now where we are is not good enough if we want to be a playoff team. We had some great games lately and we have to build on those."

Hossa is a key reason why Atlanta has been good lately. He has scored 13 goals and six assists in his last 24 games, with nine goals and two assists coming in January.

"Hossa had a little bit of a slow start because of an injury and he's really turned it on," Thrashers interim coach and General Manager Don Waddell said. "From goal line to goal line he might be one of the best players in the League because he's so good defensively. He's as good defensively as any player in the League. You can play him in all situations. He kills penalties for us, plays on the power play. He can do anything for us."

Who's hot -- Hossa has five goals and three assists in his last 10 games. In a 3-2 shootout win over the Capitals Wednesday night, Hossa had one goal and one assist. … Washington center Nicklas Backstrom has six points in his last nine games, including four in the last five. … Florida's Olli Jokinen has 12 points in his last 10 games, including two goals and three assists on the power play. … Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier extended his point-scoring streak to four games Tuesday night when he picked up two assists in the Lightning's 3-2 win over Montreal. He has now picked up six points off one goal and five assists in the four contests. … Carolina forward Andrew Ladd has been on fire of late, notching points in three-straight games and four of his last five. Ladd scored three goals -- including one game-winner against the Capitals -- and two assists for the 'Canes during his run.

You never think about it. You try to have fun. Have fun with the guys. That's the only way to handle it. - Marian Hossa

Southeast Quotes – "You never think about it. You try to have fun. Have fun with the guys. That's the only way to handle it."

-- Atlanta's Marian Hossa on how he's dealing with the rumors that he may be traded at or before the NHL trading deadline.

"It's really hard to come back and focus on hockey. Hockey's a small part of life when you see something like that happen. It's hard to put it in the back of your mind and continue playing."

-- Florida's Bryan Allen on how hard it was to continue to play Sunday after watching his teammate Richard Zednik have his throat cut in a game against the Sabres.

A look ahead -- On Friday, Feb. 15, the Washington Capitals are in Florida and the Atlanta Thrashers travel to New Jersey. On Saturday, Feb. 16, the Thrashers play the Islanders, the Panthers head to Carolina and the Lightning host the Capitals. On Monday, Feb. 18, the Hurricanes have an afternoon contest with the Devils in Carolina.

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