Atlanta Thrashers forward Marian Hossa is off to a fast start, thanks in large part to the Florida Panthers.
Hossa and the Thrashers look to win their fourth in a row and hand the Panthers their first home loss as the Southeast Division rivals complete a home-and-home series Monday night at the BankAtlantic Center.
Atlanta (6-1-1) has ridden the strong play of Hossa in compiling 13 points through its first eight games. Hossa is tied with Buffalo's Chris Drury for the NHL lead with nine goals, and his 13 points are also among the league leaders.
Four of Hossa's goals this season have come against Florida, as the right wing scored twice in each of Atlanta's two victories over the Panthers (4-4-1).
Hossa didn't even have to put the puck into the net for one of them in the Thrashers' 4-2 win over Florida on Saturday, getting credit for an empty netter with 3 seconds left when the Panthers' Olli Jokinen threw his stick at the puck in disgust as Hossa broke in with Florida's goalie pulled.
Hossa has seven goals and six assists in his last six games against the Panthers, whom the Thrashers defeated 6-0 on Oct. 7.
"(He is) the ultimate team guy," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "I have mentioned it many times, I feel he is one of the top three in this league."
Hossa also converted a penalty shot Saturday, and Ilya Kovalchuk added his first home goal of the season for Atlanta. Kovalchuk has two goals and four assists in the last three games.
"The confidence is so important," Hossa said. "We are on kind of a roll."
The Thrashers are beginning a five-game road trip. They won their first two games away from home this season.
"Going on the road 6-1-1, I think that we have positioned ourselves very well," Hartley said. "It is just up to us to take care of business on the road."
Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen had to make only 20 saves Saturday, but had several key stops to help preserve the win. Lehtonen has started every game for the Thrashers.
"We are starting to get used to these performances," Hartley said. "Kari is real strong and he is giving us a chance to win every game."
Florida will look to get off to a better start against Atlanta on Monday after allowing the first two goals Saturday.
"It's tough to come back against a team like that," Panthers center Joe Nieuwendyk said. "They are playing extremely well."
Florida, though, will be playing at the BankAtlantic Center on Monday. The Panthers have opened 4-0 at home for the first time since 1995-96.
Florida has scored 20 goals at home, and leading scorer Jokinen has had all of his production there, with four goals and five assists.
Panthers forward Todd Bertuzzi is listed as day-to-day with back spasms. Bertuzzi is second on the team with six assists behind Mike Van Ryn, who has seven.