The Atlanta Thrashers are still in position for the first playoff berth in franchise history and a potential division title. Neither will become a reality, though, if they are unable to rebound from one of their worst stretches of the season.
The Thrashers look to tighten their tenuous grip on first place in the Southeast Division on Saturday when they visit the Ottawa Senators.
Atlanta (30-21-9) appeared to be coasting toward a division title less than a month ago, but a 1-5-1 skid has cut its lead over red-hot Tampa Bay to one point with the Lightning also having one game in hand.
While their division lead is very much in jeopardy, the Thrashers also are not guaranteed a playoff spot despite ranking as high as second in the Eastern Conference earlier this season. Three teams are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot with 64 points, just five behind Atlanta.
Poor penalty killing was a problem again for the Thrashers on Tuesday, allowing three power-play goals in the first period in a 4-1 loss at Calgary.
Atlanta has been outscored 12-4 during a three-game losing streak and has surrendered 11 power-play goals in the past five contests.
"Our penalty killing, there's just no confidence right now," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "We can generate so much good momentum off of our penalty killing, but right now it's hurting us big time."
While the Thrashers' penalty killers have struggled of late, those problems have been magnified by a power-play unit that has converted only three times in the last 34 opportunities.
"It's unexcusable, our last two performances," Hartley told the team's official Web site. "We simply didn't show up. We didn't give ourselves a chance to win. But having said this, they're behind us. Now it's what's ahead of us and we have to accept this."
After losing three of four games against Northwest Division teams, Atlanta plays three of its next four against the Southeast, with the lone exception being Saturday's matchup with Ottawa (33-22-3).
The Senators have a better record than the Thrashers, but aren't likely to catch East-leading Buffalo in the Northeast Division. Barring a late collapse by the Sabres, the best Ottawa can hope for is a fourth-place finish in the East.
Backup Martin Gerber stopped 28 shots for his first shutout of the season Wednesday in the Senators' third straight victory, 4-0 over Florida.
Gerber made his first start since Jan. 30 while Ray Emery began serving a three-game suspension for striking Montreal's Maxim Lapierre in the face with his stick on Feb. 8.
"Of course it was good, getting the two points at home and a shutout is always fun, but it's just a game," Gerber said. "I've got to prepare for the next game. It's going to be huge."
Gerber has won each of his last four starts, allowing only six goals. He has, however, struggled against Atlanta, going 2-4-0 with a 3.59 goals-against average in eight games.
The Thrashers have won the first two meetings this season against the Senators, getting five goals from Slava Kozlov and six assists from former Senator Marian Hossa.
Atlanta has won five of seven against Ottawa after losing the previous five matchups.