PANTHERS (24-24-9) at THRASHERS (24-24-8)
Florida 5-4-1; Atlanta 4-5-1
Fifth of six meetings this season between Southeast Division rivals. The Panthers and Thrashers have split their first four matchups, with every game decided by a single goal. Atlanta won 4-3 on Nov. 30 and 2-1 on Dec. 5, then Florida answered back with victories by scores of 4-3 on Dec. 16 and 1-0 on Jan. 18. Tomas Vokoun stopped all 27 shots for the shutout in the most recent game.
While each team sits within striking distance of an Eastern Conference playoff berth, the Panthers and Thrashers will both have their work cut out. Florida simply can't score goals right now, and has been relying on Vokoun to steal games in order to win. Atlanta must find a new identity following Thursday's trade of captain and leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey.
Anyone who thought the offensive woes in Florida couldn't get any worse had something coming with Friday's performance against Calgary. The Panthers managed just 13 shots on goal and were probably lucky to lose only 2-1 to the Flames. A power-play strike by Dennis Seidenberg early in the second got them even, but Mark Giordano scored the decisive tally late in the period.
"We spent too much time in our zone and by the time we got it in their zone we didn't have enough energy to do anything in there," forward Stephen Weiss
said. "We were just too tired to sustain anything down there."
If Atlanta was reeling after the Kovalchuk trade went down, Washington probably wasn't the best place for the Thrashers to find themselves on Friday. They gave a solid effort, pumping 45 shots on goal, but lost 5-2 to the Capitals, who extended their winning streak to 13 games. Forward Niclas Bergfors and defenseman Johnny Oduya made their Atlanta debuts after being acquired Thursday and coach John Anderson praised their efforts.
"I was really happy with them," Anderson said. "It was really tough on Oduya because we lost Boris (Valabik) in the first period and we only had five defensemen the whole game. I thought Bergfors played very well with (Nik) Antropov. We put him on his wrong side and he made some really good plays.
"I'm very happy with them and I think they will get more acclimated as we go."
Don't blame Vokoun if the Panthers' playoff drought reaches nine seasons and counting. He's allowed two goals or less in 11 of his last 14 starts, with four shutouts, but only has a 7-5-2 record to show for it.
Rich Peverley, who is now tied for the Thrashers' scoring lead with Maxim Afinogenov following the Kovalchuk deal, has five goals and three assists in his last 10 games.
A broken left tibia will sideline Florida forward Nathan Horton until after the Olympic break. … Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen (back) is finishing up a conditioning assignment at Chicago of the AHL, while defenseman Christoph Schubert (knee) is on injured reserve.
Bergfors registered four shots on goal in 12:53 of ice time Friday while Oduya logged 20:38, including 4:35 of shorthanded time.
Panthers coach Peter DeBoer read his team the proverbial riot act following their lackluster performance against the Flames.
"Our forwards have to get grittier and have to realize they've got to pay a price to score in this League and right now we don't have enough guys that are interested in doing that," he said. "If it was one or two you could sit guys out but we've got lines of guys that haven't scored in 15 games. It's tough. The only way to fix that is through free agency in the summer."