The Atlanta Thrashers appear to be turning around their season behind increased production from their top offensive players - with one notable exception.
The Thrashers (4-8-0) hope Marian Hossa can break out of his five-game point drought when they continue their longest road trip of the season against Hossa's red-hot former team, the Ottawa Senators (9-1-0), on Thursday.
Hossa is one game shy of matching the longest point drought of his career, set when he played for the Senators from Jan. 14-26, 1999. He has just two goals and an assist in nine games this season following a career-high 100-point performance in 2006-07.
His lack of production, however, hasn't hurt too much lately as fellow forwards Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov have powered Atlanta's resurgence.
Kovalchuk has three goals and five assists, and Kozlov has four goals since general manager Don Waddell took over as coach after Bob Hartley was fired following an 0-6-0 start. The Thrashers have won two straight and four of six under Waddell.
"I think the biggest difference right now is we're getting a good effort from everyone," Waddell said. "Kozlov wasn't scoring, Kovy wasn't scoring the way he's scoring right now, and it's our big guys who are coming through for us. Marian Hossa's still a little bit snakebitten. He had some great chances again. The last two games we can't find the back of the net, but our veterans are doing a great job for us."
Hossa may have a good chance to break out of his slump Thursday, as he's produced against the Senators since they dealt him to the Thrashers for Dany Heatley on Aug. 23, 2005. Hossa has three goals and 12 assists in eight matchups with his former team, including 10 assists in the four meetings last season.
A groin injury forced Hossa to miss Atlanta's 3-1 home loss to Ottawa on Oct. 10 in the teams' first meeting of 2007-08.
Kozlov and Kovalchuk continued to carry their team Tuesday night, with Kozlov scoring in regulation and in a shootout, and Kovalchuk recording the decisive goal in the shootout as Atlanta defeated Montreal 3-2.
The Thrashers bounced back to win after allowing the tying goal to Chris Higgins with 1:58 left in regulation, improving them to 3-2 on their seven-game trip.
"It's always great when you are winning," said Kovalchuk, who has 13 goals and nine assists in 20 games against Ottawa. "It's a long marathon of a trip. We need to stick together and play for each other, that's the most important thing."
Atlanta should receive a good test of that newfound togetherness against Ottawa, which is seeking its second five-game winning streak of the season. The Senators have been doing it with defense, allowing six goals during their four consecutive wins and giving up an NHL-low 19 goals overall.
The Senators are hoping a four-day layoff following a 4-1 victory at New Jersey on Saturday doesn't leave them rusty.
"When you have had so many days off and you want to step it up to that higher gear, it's hard," assistant coach Ron Low told Ottawa's official Web site. "The games are what we're looking for now to get into a real competitive environment and keep things going."
Forward Shean Donovan scored a goal for the second straight game Saturday after going pointless in the first eight, sparking the Senators' three-goal third period by finding the back of the net with 13:20 left.
"This team's got a lot of firepower," Donovan said. "We need everybody pitching in, so it's nice to help out. It would be nice to score more often."
Martin Gerber made 31 saves to win his third straight game and improve to 17-1-2 with a 2.07 goals-against average in 20 games since Dec. 23. Gerber is 3-4-0 with a 3.50 GAA in nine appearances against Atlanta.
The Senators, though, likely will be without first-line center Jason Spezza, who suffered a slight groin strain at practice Tuesday and is taking a cautious approach.
"Right now, it doesn't feel good," Spezza told the team's official Web site. "We're just going to take it day-by-day and see what happens. I've never had groin problems before, so I don't know the severity of it."
Senators coach John Paddock said he was unsure who would take Spezza's place between Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, but can choose from Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and Randy Robitaille.
The Thrashers' Johan Hedberg, filling in with Kari Lehtonen on injured reserve with a groin injury, has lost each of his last three games to Ottawa. He's 3-5-0 with a 3.19 GAA in nine appearances against the Senators.
Alfredsson has 12 goals and 14 assists in 23 games versus the Thrashers, while Heatley has five goals and three assists in nine games against Atlanta.
Senators forward Dean McAmmond may make his season debut Thursday after suffering a concussion in the preseason.