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Thrashers and Wings try to end slumps

by David Kalan /

THRASHERS (10-7-3) at RED WINGS (11-7-4)

Last 10 -- Thrashers 5-3-2; Red Wings 6-3-1

Season series -- This will be the only meeting of the season for the Thrashers and Wings. Detroit swept both meetings last season, taking the last game, 6-3, on March 20. The teams are meeting for only the 12th time since the Thrashers entered the NHL in 1999; Detroit has won nine of the first 11.

Big story -- After making an impressive run to pull within two points of a playoff spot, Atlanta will look to curtail a three-game losing streak against a Detroit team battling through mounting injuries.

Team Scope:

Thrashers -- While the Thrashers have lost three in a row, Atlanta has had a strong November. Prior to a shootout loss to Boston on Nov. 19, the Thrashers had won four straight games and five of seven. Atlanta's recent run put them within reaching distance of the East's top eight, but with three straight losses -- all at home -- it appears the Thrashers might have hit a crossroads. After climbing into the playoff race, a loss to Detroit could hasten a tumble back to the bottom of the standings.

Atlanta has still scratched out two points during its recent losing streak, but while the Thrashers did show some life by rallying to force overtime Sunday against Tampa Bay, coach John Anderson termed their effort over the first two periods "embarrassing." A win at Joe Louis Arena would be a major step for a young team still trying to establish itself.

Red Wings -- For a team with a dramatically different track record, the Wings are in a strikingly similar situation to Atlanta. After winning five of six games to start November, Detroit, too, is now on the outside looking in at the playoff race after going 1-2-1 in its last four. While the Wings have gotten solid play from goalies Chris Osgood and Jimmy Howard, the offense hasn't pulled its weight, scoring only five goals over those four games.

Detroit's problems have been compounded by a rash of injuries -- the most recent of which claimed defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who is out 4-8 weeks with a sprained MCL. Five months removed from a second consecutive Western Conference title, a return to the postseason, let alone the finals, is suddenly not a sure thing. Still, Wednesday might be the right opportunity for the Wings to stem the bleeding -- Atlanta has won just once at Joe Louis Arena, and the Wings are plenty comfortable at home.

Who's hot -- Pavel Datsyuk has four goals and two assists over his last seven games for the Wings. Meanwhile, Atlanta's Maxim Afinogenov has been a revelation. After getting a camp invite following a disappointing season in Buffalo, the 30-year-old winger has already matched his offensive output from a season ago and has 9 points in the last six games.

Injury report -- Atlanta is still missing goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who is out indefinitely after back surgery. The situation is far more dire for the Wings, who are without regulars Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Jason Williams and now Kronwall for an extended period.

Stat pack -- If Atlanta were looking for the ideal place to snap its current skid, it probably would prefer just about anywhere but Detroit. The Thrashers are just 1-4-1 in six visits to the Joe, where they've been outscored 23-16. ... Detroit's penalty-killers have allowed two or more power-play goals in three of the Wings' last five games. … Atlanta captain Ilya Kovalchuk has 1 goal and 5 assists in six games against the Red Wings.

Puck drop -- The Thrashers might actually be in better position to break out of their current funk than the Wings. Atlanta is almost entirely healthy -- and Lehtonen has been admirably replaced by Ondrej Pavelec -- while the Detroit medical staff's hands are as full as any in the league. The Wings should also be particularly concerned with the special teams matchup. While the Thrashers boast the second-ranked power play in the East, Detroit's penalty kill is third worst in the League. One more worry for Detroit could be a breakout game by Kovalchuk. Not surprisingly, the impending free agent leads the Thrashers with 13 goals, but he hasn't had a point in two games -- the first time that has happened this season.

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