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Thrashers-Islanders Preview

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The New York Islanders are making their season-opening three-game slide a distant memory.

They look to extend their longest winning streak of the season to four games when they host the Southeast Division-leading Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night at Nassau Veterans' Memorial Coliseum.

New York (6-4-2) won its third straight game Thursday, 5-2 over New Jersey. The victory moved the Islanders into a three-way tie with Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers for the Atlantic Division lead, and improved them to 6-1-2 since dropping the first three games of the season.

"Every game is getting better and better," said center Alexei Yashin, who had three assists against the Devils to raise his team-leading points total to 16. "The last three are much better than the start. Hopefully we can continue to develop and play even better hockey."

Yashin has enjoyed great success in his career against the Thrashers (9-3-3), with nine goals and 15 assists in 19 games. He had four goals and four assists - with at least one point in each game - in last season's four meetings, three of them Islanders victories.

While Yashin has been playing well all season, New York's key line of Trent Hunter, Mike York and Miroslav Satan just now appears to be getting untracked. Hunter and Satan each scored first-period goals Thursday, with York assisting on both.

Satan's goal was his first since the Oct. 5 season opener, while Hunter snapped a personal seven-game scoring drought. York had his first multipoint game of the season, after recording at least two points 10 times last season.

"York has been slowly getting better and better," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. "Miro Satan, people have been saying he's not scoring, but he's been doing the other things and Trent Hunter has been one of our best forwards. To see them get rewarded with the goals is a change."

Satan has 18 goals in 23 career games versus Atlanta, including a career-high four on Feb. 16, 2004, while playing for Buffalo.

It's uncertain which goaltender the surging Islanders offense will face. Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen was pulled after allowing four goals on 13 shots in Wednesday's 5-2 loss to Carolina.

Johan Hedberg replaced Lehtonen in that contest, and then made 24 saves Friday night in just his second start of the season, a 4-3 victory over Washington. Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said he hadn't decided which goalie to start against New York.

"He gave us some big saves," Hartley said of Hedberg. "Plus, he moves the puck so well. He's real good around the net, takes pressure off the defensemen."

Hedberg is 2-3 with one tie and a 3.44 goals-against average in six career starts versus the Islanders. Lehtonen is 1-1 with a 3.93 GAA in two starts.

Steve Rucchin's second goal of the season, 27 seconds into the third period, proved to be the game-winner against Washington on Friday. Jon Sim assisted on the play and added a goal of his own in the victory, as Atlanta avoided its first three-game losing streak of the season.

This is the seventh road game in the last eight for the Thrashers, who return home for three games starting on Monday against Boston.

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