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Thrashers hope to get untracked at home vs. Columbus

by Matthew Mankiewich /

BLUE JACKETS (7-5-2) at THRASHERS (6-4-1)

Last 10 -- Blue Jackets 4-4-2, Thrashers 5-4-1

Season series -- One meeting last season, one this season. Steve Mason got his first NHL shutout last time these two teams met on Nov. 22, 2008, winning 2-0. It was only his sixth start in the League en route to a Calder Trophy-winning season. Columbus has won three of the last four meetings, including the last two by identical 2-0 scores. The teams have met 10 times in all, with each winning five times.

Big story -- The Blue Jackets are on the tail end of a back-to back -- they lost 3-2 to San Jose in a shootout at home on Wednesday before flying to Atlanta.

The Thrashers have bounced back from a four-game slide, the last two of which saw them fall into early 3-0 holes, recovering just enough to lose by one. Granted, the games were against Washington and San Jose, but road wins against Ottawa and Montreal have righted the ship for now.

Team scope

Blue Jackets -- The trip to Atlanta is a blip on a stretch that keeps the Blue Jackets at home for five of six games.

Rick Nash has been the go-to guy for the Blue Jackets his entire career, but even he has to go to someone every now and then, and R.J. Umberger was the man in an overtime battle in Washington on Sunday, scoring his second power-play goal of the game on a feed from Nash into the crease, giving the Jackets a 5-4 win and stopping a three-game slide.

Umberger returned the favor Wednesday night against the Sharks, setting Nash up on a second-period power-play goal that tied the game 2-2, though San Jose won the shootout.

Thrashers -- Without question, the overwhelming reason for the Thrashers' recent resurgence is Ondrej Pavelec. Stopping 50 of 51 shots against the Senators this past Saturday, one of them without his mask, he has put on a show since winning the starting job in the aftermath of Kari Lehtonen's slow recovery from back surgery. The Ottawa game summed up his importance well, turning a dismal defensive effort into a win.

''We didn't play well at all,'' Rich Peverley said that night. ''At times it felt like we were just standing around. (Pavelec) handed us the win, he was tremendous.''

That effort was followed with a solid one in Montreal, where Colby Armstrong's third-period goal gave the Thrashers their first win in the Bell Centre in five years, 5-4.

Who's hot -- Peverley extended his point streak to eight games with a goal and two assists in Montreal. The Atlanta center has failed to get a point in only one game so far this year, a 4-2 loss in Ottawa on Oct. 10. He leads the team with 16 points. … In his last three games, Nash has 3 goals and 3 assists.

Injury report -- A second surgery on Lehtonen's cranky back has pushed back any potential return to late December. Atlanta defenseman Ron Hainsey (lower body) is expected to be available to play against his former team. Blue Jackets defenseman Jan Hejda, who missed eight games with a knee injury, came off IR and played Wednesday. His return should help tighten a leaky defense.

Stat pack -- Atlanta has struggled at home so far this season (1-3-0), but is 5-1-1 on the road. One area in which they haven't struggled is special teams -- they ranked third overall on the power play at 27.5 percent, only fractions of a percentage point behind Philadelphia and Calgary.

Puck drop -- It's a once-a-year matchup for these two teams, dealing with similar issues and each needing a win.

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