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Thrashers in search of rare home win vs. Panthers

by Matthew Mankiewich /
PANTHERS (10-11-4) at THRASHERS (13-7-3)

Last 10 -- Florida 5-2-3, Atlanta 7-1-2

Season Series --
First of six for these Southeast Division rivals. Florida held the advantage last year, taking four of six, including an 8-4 blowout on Jan. 10, 2009. The Thrashers have lost five of their last six meetings with the Panthers at Philips Arena.

Big Story -- The Thrashers are looking to build another four-game winning streak against a team that has had their number, especially in Atlanta. This, of course, could not have come at a better time for the Panthers, who are trying to stop a four-game slide themselves.

Team Scope:

Panthers -- Over the first three losses of this recent dip, it was a case of the Panthers not being able to hold third-period leads. On Saturday they never had one, but the formula was similar, as the Predators broke a 1-1 tie with a dominant third period and took the game 4-1, ending the Cats' four-game road winning streak.

"I think we self-destructed,'' coach Pete DeBoer told the Miami Herald. "A couple of bad plays, and we can't afford to do that. We had a good second period, a good start to the third. We just shot ourselves in the foot. We can't make those mistakes in the third. It costs us games.''

They'll have plenty of chances to correct the problem as the schedule compresses. This is the third of six games in a nine-day period, which brings Craig Anderson and the Avalanche to town on Wednesday, a trip to play the Capitals in D.C. on Friday, then these same Thrashers at home on Saturday.

Thrashers -- Everyone knows by now the Thrashers can score in bunches. They can also win with defense too, as goalies Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg have picked up their games recently, combining to stop 106 of 110 shots (.964 save percentage) in wins over Detroit, Carolina and Philadelphia, posting shutouts in two of them.

Hedberg made 34 saves in the Thrashers' 1-0 win over the Flyers, snapping a 14-game losing streak to Philly in what was the NHL's longest current slide against one opponent.

"Well it starts with the goalies," defenseman Pavel Kubina said. "Pavs and Moose have made unbelievable saves in unbelievable performances by those two goalies. We've been better at reducing turnovers in our own zone and we've been working on it in practice. The penalty-killing has been awesome. Guys are diving to block shots, and it's a great team effort. It's fun to be around."

"We lost three games [in a row] and it's great to be back on a roll," Pavelec told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We've shown that if we lose a couple of games, we can get on a winning roll again. That's a great thing. A lot of teams, if they lose a couple games, it can snowball."

Who's Hot -- Pavelec and Hedberg have kept teams off the board, but Ilya Kovalchuk and Rich Peverley have provided much of the firepower. Peverley leads the Thrashers with 26 points including the lone goal that sealed the win against Philadelphia. Nathan Horton has been steady for the Panthers with 10 points in his last 9 games.

Injury Report --
Panthers left winger Kenndal McArdle left the Nashville game in the second period with a right arm injury following his second fight of the night with Jordin Tootoo. He may be available for Monday's game or Gregory Campbell, due back after five games with an apparent shoulder injury, could take his place.

Stat Pack -- The Thrashers have made headlines with their 9-0-0 record after scoring first. Anderson doesn't put too much weight on it, but doesn't mind it either.

"Every team I've coached takes on little nuances and traits of their own and I guess this is just one of them and I hope it continues," he said after the win over the Flyers. "We'll be trying hard to score the first goal every game."

They've stopped all 12 opposing power-play opportunities over the winning streak, which doesn't bode well for the Panthers, who are only 2-for-23 with a man up over their last six games. The Panthers were involved in seven fights over their first 21 games and now have six in their past four.

Puck Drop --
For all their success, the Thrashers need to establish a home-ice advantage at Philips Arena, and they'll have to do it against a team with a history of winning there.

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