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Thrashers-Penguins Preview @NHL

GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (3-6-0) at Pittsburgh Penguins (0-4-5).

TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.

Mario Lemieux has a reputation as being a mild-mannered player. Three weeks without a victory has apparently been too much for even him to take.

Lemieux and the Penguins will again try to post their first win of the season when they face the Atlanta Thrashers, a team in no position to offer any sympathy.

Pittsburgh was poised to win its first game of the season Tuesday with a 3-2 lead on Florida late in the third period. The Panthers, however, scored a power-play goal with 2:30 left in regulation to tie it.

Lemieux was then called for a disputed interference penalty with 19 seconds remaining and Stephen Weiss capitalized on the ensuing power play in overtime to lift Florida to a 4-3 victory.

An agitated Lemieux yelled at referees Stephane Auger and Dan O'Halloran as he left the ice and had to be restrained by the linesmen.

"When he was that disgusted, to be as animated as he was, just shows to me there was no way it was a penalty," Penguins coach Ed Olczyk said.

The loss dropped the Penguins to 0-4-5, the longest season-opening stretch in the 39-year history of the franchise. Despite being the NHL's only winless team for a week and a half, Pittsburgh has earned at least a point in five of its nine games.

"We're finding ways to get some points even though we are not playing our best hockey," Penguins winger Ryan Malone said. "There were some positives to take from the (Florida) game."

One player that can't be blamed for Pittsburgh's disappointing start is rookie Sidney Crosby, who leads the team with 10 assists and 12 points. Crosby, the top overall pick in the 2005 draft, has at least one point in eight of his first nine games.

Olczyk said he plans to give Sebastien Caron a start in goal Thursday because of the team's heavily compacted schedule. Jocelyn Thibault has struggled this season, going 0-3-1 with a 5.65 goals-against average and .857 save percentage.

"I'm just going to go out and try to do the best I can, and hopefully that will be good enough to get us a win," Caron said.

Atlanta has lost five of its last six games, including a 4-3 defeat to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored a pair of power-play goals for the Thrashers, who own the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.

With Kari Lehtonen and Mike Dunham still injured, the Thrashers have been forced to use rookie goalies Adam Berkhoel and Michael Garnett.

Berkhoel stopped 22 of 26 shots in Tuesday's loss.

"I wish I had all four back," Berkhoel said. "I don't know if it was all mental breakdowns or what, but I didn't help myself or the team out."

Garnett has allowed 12 goals in his last two games and sports an ugly 6.34 GAA.

STANDINGS: Thrashers - 6 points, 5th place, 7 PB, Southeast Division. Penguins - 5 points, 5th place, 6 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Marc Savard, 4 goals, 8 assists and 12 points; Eric Boulton, 38 PIM. Penguins - Ziggy Palffy and Malone, 4 goals; Crosby, 10 assists and 12 points; Sergei Gonchar, 22 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Thrashers - Power play: 16.6 percent (12 for 72), 17th in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.3 percent (58 for 74), 25th. Penguins - Power play: 17.1 percent (11 for 64), 16th. Penalty killing: 77.9 percent (53 for 68), 27th.

GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Berkhoel (1-2-0, 3.96 GAA); Garnett (0-2-0, 6.34). Penguins - Caron (0-0-3, 3.61); Thibault (0-3-1, 5.65).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: 2-2.

LAST MEETING: April 2, 2004; Penguins, 3-2. At Atlanta, Jean-Sebastien Aubin stopped 31 shots and Aleksey Morozov had a goal and an assist to lead Pittsburgh.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 1-3-0 on the road; Penguins - 0-2-2 at home.

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