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Southeast: Thrashers, Recchi perfect together

by Robert Picarello
After being demoted from the Penguins' top line to off the team, Mark Recchi was snatched up off of re-entry waivers by the Thrashers.
Christmas came early for Mark Recchi.

On Dec. 8, Atlanta coach/GM Don Waddell plucked the forward off re-entry waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a move he considered a "no-brainer." In Waddell's eyes, the Thrashers added another proven scorer to their offense without having to give up anything in return.

After scoring 24 goals and 68 points just a year ago for the Pens, Recchi had fallen out of favor in Pittsburgh this season, appearing in only 19 of the team's first 28 games. In his limited action, the 19-season NHL veteran managed to produce only eight points, causing Penguins coach Michel Therrien to drop him like a hot potato from the team's top unit with Sidney Crosby.

As if that wasn't bad enough for the future Hall of Famer, Therrien then proceeded to demote him to Pittsburgh's third line, then its fourth line, until ultimately taking him out of the lineup altogether and off the team a short while later.

While Therrien and his coaching staff lost confidence in the two-time Stanley Cup winner, Waddell was more than happy to take Recchi off their hands.
"We're very pleased to be adding a proven veteran like Mark to our lineup," Waddell said. "He's an accomplished player who competes hard, and at a high-skill level, every time he's on the ice."

It didn't take Recchi long to prove the Penguins wrong, as the 39-year old scored two goals in his first game with the Thrashers, playing on a line with Eric Perrin and Slava Kozlov.

"They'll see," Recchi told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I didn't get 68 points for no reason last year. In the first seven or eight games, I had a point a game until the coach decided to move me down two or three lines for whatever reason. I still haven't figured it out. I know I can still help."

After just four games, Recchi has shown he still has plenty left in the tank, recording four points (three goals and one assist) for the Thrashers. His immediate production prompted Waddell to bump the seven-time All Star up to the first line Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning; he skated alongside Todd White and Ilya Kovalchuk, the team's leading scorer. In their first action together, the threesome led Atlanta to a 6-2 win against the Bolts, combining to post three points off two goals and one assist, including Recchi's third goal as a Thrasher.

So in the past few weeks, Recchi and his 500-plus goals and 1,300-plus points went from sitting on the sidelines for the Penguins to playing on the top line in Atlanta.

"I feel very comfortable with the hockey club already," Recchi told The Associated Press. "I hope to continue to help and help us get some wins."

Waddell and the Thrashers hope for the same.

Recchi-ng ball – In 20 games against Eastern Conference clubs this year, Recchi has 12 points, five goals and seven assists. In four games against Southeast Division teams, he has two goals and two assists and is plus-4. Last season, in 72 games against the East, Recchi had 55 points, including 20 goals, three game-winning tallies and a dozen power-play goals.

At the end of the 2006-07 campaign, Recchi had eight points (three goals, five assists) in 20 games against the Southeast opponents, racking up the most points (1-2-3) against current Southeast leader Carolina. Kovalchuk ranks first on the Thrashers with 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) against the Southeast Division this season, while Hossa is second on the team with 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) and White is third with 11 points (five goals, six assists).

Who’s Hot – Heading into Thursday night's action in the Southeast, Kovalchuk had posted two or more points in 13 of his last 25 contests, including one goal and one assist Tuesday night in a 6-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Kovalchuk has 39 points (23 goals and 16 assists) in that span and 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists) in his last 16 games. …Tampa Bay's Vaclav Prospal has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last three games, including his 15th goal of the season, which he potted Tuesday night in a road loss to the Thrashers. … Florida's Tomas Vokoun is 4-1-1 in his last six games, including a nail-biting 3-2 win against the Canadiens in Montreal on Tuesday. During the stretch, the Panthers' goalie faced 209 shots and stopped 200, improving his overall record to 16-12-1. … Carolina pivot Matt Cullen has four points, including two goals, in his last three games. Last Saturday, in a 6-5 shootout win against the Flyers, Cullen scored one goal in regulation and one in the breakaway session to help seal the deal on the road for the Hurricanes. …Washington's Michael Nylander has six points in his last five games, one goal and five assists. The center comes into Thursday night's action against the Canadiens having produced nine points in his last eight games, including two multiple-point efforts against Carolina.

Southeast quotes
– "To come back from two goals down with a minute and a half left – we've got to get momentum after that."
-- Carolina's Cory Stillman said after the Hurricanes defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime Tuesday night after being down two goals with under two minutes to play in regulation.
"These are four-point games. In our own division you can make up a lot of ground. Two points we get are two points they don't get."
-- Thrashers coach and general manager Don Waddell said after Atlanta spanked division rival Tampa Bay, 6-2, Tuesday night.

A look ahead – Saturday, the Washington Capitals travel to Long Island to take on the Islanders, the Carolina Hurricanes are in Tampa Bay to play the Lightning, the Florida Panthers host the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Atlanta Thrashers entertain the visiting Montreal Canadiens. On Sunday, the Thrashers travel to St. Louis to play the Blues. After the two-day holiday break, play resumes in the Southeast on Dec. 26 with Carolina in New York to take on the Rangers, Tampa Bay traveling to Washington and Atlanta squaring off against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
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