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Penguins vs. Thrashers Game Preview

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins

Home: 12-6-1-25
Road: 12-5-1-25

WHEN: Dec. 28, 2010 - 7:00 pm   |   WHERE: CONSOL Energy Center
FSN  |  LISTEN: Pens HD Radio, 105.9 FM
Atlanta Thrashers
Home: 10-7-3-23

  Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Atlanta Thrashers 
Rich Peverley
C  -  #47
  8 Goals
  14 Assists
  22 Points
• After being placed on waivers by Nashville midway through the 2007-08 season, the undrafted forward’s career has rejuvenated in Atlanta.

• Is coming off his best NHL season, where he posted career highs in goals (22), assists (33), points (55), game-winning goals (7), power-play tallies (7), shorthanded goals (2) and shots (166).

• Has been performing tremendously in the faceoff dot for the Thrashers, winning 380 faceoffs for a 57.4-percent success rate. 
Bryan Little
F  -  #10
  10 Goals
  10 Assists
  20 Points
• Is currently riding a four-game point streak, where he has one goal and four assists over that span.

• Tallied career-highs in his sophomore campaign in 2008-09, notching 31 goals and 51 points and finished tied for the team lead with 12 power-play tallies.

• Posted 109 points in 64 games with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League in 2005-06, then proceeded to notch 107 points in 57 games the following season before turning pro in 2007-08.
Zach Bogosian
D  -  #4
  3 goals
  3 assists
  6 points
• Posted 23 points (10G-13A) in 81 games last season in his sophomore campaign, establishing new career highs in games played, points, goals and assists while tying the Thrashers franchise record for most goals by a defenseman in a single season.

• He set a new franchise record last season with 196 hits, after becoming the youngest Thrasher to appear in an NHL game at 18 years, 87 days when he made his debut on Oct. 10, 2008.

• The Massena, N.Y., native was drafted in the first round (third overall) by Atlanta in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
The Thrashers come to CONSOL Energy Center on Tuesday off a disappointing 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. Atlanta’s 44 points put them at third in the Southeast Division behind the Lightning and Washington, who both have 47 points. They’ll be looking to make up a bit of ground against the Penguins, as Atlanta sits in fifth place in the Eastern Conference entering the second half of the season.

Their dangerously talented crew of blueliners still carries the squad, as they lead the NHL with a combined 25 goals and 95 points. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien paces the team with 37 points, passing his previous career-high of 36 points that he set as a forward with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007-08. Byfuglien is surprisingly fleet and mobile at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, a stark contrast to his defensive partner, Tobias Enstrom, who stands at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds. But Enstrom plays huge, eating up monster minutes and ranking third in team scoring with 28 points (5G-23A).

The underrated defensive pairing of Zach Bogosian and Johnny Oduya joins Byfuglien and Enstrom on the blue line. Oduya led all Thrashers with 25:08 minutes of ice time on Sunday and plays a solid shutdown game, providing a veteran presence alongside the 20-year-old Bogosian, who has struggled to find his game at times this season after a huge sophomore campaign.

While they’re known for their offensive-minded blueliners, Atlanta's forwards aren’t all that bad either. Their first line of Evander Kane, Bryan Little and Anthony Stewart has been clicking, with Stewart tallying eight points (2G-6A) over his past five games. The other two have been chipping in at key times, with Kane and Little combining for 21 goals. The rest of the offense has also been stepping up and contributing, with the Thrashers being just one of six teams to have at least five players with 10 goals each.

Ondrej Pavelec has continued to shine between the pipes for the Thrashers, especially over his past three games. He made 31 saves in Sunday’s overtime loss to Tampa Bay after stopping 31 shots on a 4-1 loss to Boston on Dec. 23, and a 37-save performance in a 6-3 win over Toronto on Dec. 20. Pavelec is now 12-7-4 on the season and the more he plays, the more confidence the 23-year-old netminder accrues.
  • The Penguins opened up play this month when they hosted the Thrashers on Dec. 2. Both teams were red-hot entering that contest – the Penguins were riding a seven-game winning streak while the Thrashers had just tied a franchise record with their six-game winning streak. Sidney Crosby exploded for his first-career natural hat trick, scoring all three Penguins goals to lead his team to a 3-2 victory over the Thrashers. The Pittsburgh captain became the first Penguins player in nearly 10 years to record hat tricks in successive home games, as Crosby had tallied three goals against Calgary on Nov. 27.
  • With the Dec. 2 victory, the Penguins have now won eight-straight games at home against the Thrashers. The last time Atlanta managed to garner a road win against Pittsburgh was back on Dec. 21, 2006, when they topped the Penguins 4-3 in overtime at Mellon Arena.
  • Despite falling 3-1 to Ottawa at Scotiabank Place on Sunday, Crosby managed to extend his career-high point streak to 24 games when he scored with 3:22 remaining in regulation. That’s the NHL’s longest streak in 18 years, since Quebec’s Mats Sundin went on a 30-game run back in 1992-93. He’s now within four games of tying Mario Lemieux for the second-longest point streak in franchise history, after No. 66 reeled off a 28-game stretch from Jan. 1, 1986 to March 15, 1986, scoring 59 points (21G-38A). Crosby now has 24 goals through 24 games and has 46 points over his streak.
  • If the Penguins earn victories Tuesday against Atlanta and Wednesday versus the New York Islanders, they’ll post back-to-back 10-win months for just the second time in franchise history. The last time the Penguins accomplished that feat was in 1995, when they went 10-3-1 in November and 10-4 in December that year en route to a 49-29-4 record and a Northeast Division title. They currently have an 8-3 record for the month of December after posting a 10-3-1 mark in November.
  • Nick Foligno’s penalty shot in the third period of Sunday’s game marked the ninth-career penalty shot that Marc-Andre Fleury has faced. The Penguins netminder has saved seven of those nine attempts, including one against Los Angele’s Esa Pirnes in his first-ever NHL game on Oct. 10, 2003.
  • Jordan Staal traveled with the team to Ottawa and skated at the Penguins’ morning skate at Scotiabank Place. He was also on the ice for the Penguins’ noon practice at Southpointe on Monday. Staal has yet to see game action this season, with a broken foot sidelining him for the first 12 games before suffering a broken hand that has kept him out of commission since.


Play A Full 60 Minutes: Five of the Thrashers’ last 11 games have gone to overtime or a shootout. Atlanta won two of those games in overtime, lost one in overtime and lost two in shootouts. They’ve now played to overtime or a shootout in a total of 12 games this season, tied for the highest in the league. The Penguins have done a good job of closing out games, and need to do that against this young, fast Thrashers squad.

Penalty Kill: As much as the Penguins would prefer to stay out of the box altogether, penalties are a part of the game and they’ll need to keep their top-ranked penalty kill sharp against this Atlanta squad, whose power play is tied for seventh in the league with a 21-percent success rate. The Thrashers are extra dangerous with the man-advantage, with the scoring capabilities their defensemen have – 15 of Byfuglien’s 36 points and 14 of Enstrom’s 28 points have come on the power play.

C Jordan Staal, broken right hand (up to 2 weeks)
F Mike Comrie, hip (14)
G Brent Johnson, groin (2)
F Arron Asham, undisclosed (2)
RW Nik Antropov, hip (day-to-day)
Crosby (30) Byfuglien (13)
Crosby (31) Byfuglien (24)
Crosby (61) Byfuglien (37)
Engelland (76) Eager (61)
Letang/Crosby (+18) Little (+13)
Crosby (9) 5 tied (4)
Cooke (2)
Ladd/Little (2)
Fleury (16-8-1)
Pavelec (12-7-4)
Johnson (2.14) Pavelec (1.96)
Johnson (.925) Pavelec (.939)

Matt Cooke - Cooke tallied an assist on Crosby’s goal Sunday after battling hard in the corner to dig the puck free to find a streaking No. 87. Cooke now has points in three of his last four games, including back-to-back goals against Phoenix on Dec. 20 and Florida on Dec. 22. The gritty forward hasn’t just been contributing on the scoresheet – his play off the puck has been priceless, especially on the penalty kill. He’s tied for second in the NHL with four shorthanded points (2G-2A). To top it off, he leads the team with 106 hits and is second among Penguins forwards with 24 blocked shots.
Anthony Stewart - Stewart has earned eight points (2G-6A) in five of his past six contests, finishing with two-point efforts in three of those games. He now has 10 goals and 24 points through 38 games. He seems to have found his groove after getting off to a rocky start in his first few seasons in the league – Stewart was Florida’s first-round pick (25th overall) in 2003 and tallied just 12 points (4G-8A) in 105 NHL games with the Panthers before signing a free-agent contract with the Thrashers in July 2009. He then spent all of last season in the American Hockey League with the Thrashers’ affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, scoring 31 points (12G-19A) in 77 contests.

Crosby Enjoying His Time Back in Winter Classic Spotlight  
Penguins Report: Practice 12/27/10
  24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic - Dec. 29 Episode
Crosby Named "Third Star" of the Week 
Penguins Wives Association's 2010-11 Online Charity Auction 

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Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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