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Pittsburgh vs. Atlanta Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (14-7-0-28) vs. Atlanta Thrashers (10-6-2-22)

Where: Phillips Arena
Saturday, November 21, 7 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
The Penguins and Thrashers converge for the first of four meetings in 2009-2010. Pittsburgh swept all four contests from Atlanta last season, outscoring the Thrashers by a combined score of 18-8. Evgeni Malkin averaged over three points per game against Atlanta, registering 13 points (4G-9A) in the four games.




Last Meeting: March 17, 2009
PIT 6 - ATL 2
Game Highlights
AP Recap
Stay Out of the Box: A big reason for Atlanta’s 10-6-2 record through 18 games has been their power play. The Thrashers rank third in the league behind only the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals, clicking at a 25.3 rate with the man-advantage. Ilya Kovalchuk is tied for second in the National Hockey League with six power-play goals while Rich Peverley ranks sixth (tied) overall with five.

Stay with the Points:
The Penguins forwards need to make sure they stay disciplined and keep on their points in the defensive zone, as the Thrashers defense leads the league with 18 goals scored through Thursday, accounting for 28.6 percent of Atlanta’s offense. Second-year defenseman Zach Bogosian leads the NHL with eight tallies.
Atlanta has put together back-to-back 76 point seasons after winning the Southeast Division and clinching the organization’s only playoff berth in 2006-07. Through the first month of the ’09-10 season they look to be one of the league’s most improved teams, posting a record of 10-6-2 through Friday.

Head coach John Anderson is in his second campaign with Atlanta after 11 seasons as the head coach of the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. Through one-plus seasons Anderson has a record of 45-47-8 with the Thrashers. During his time in Chicago he led the Wolves to two Calder Cup championships (2008; 2002) and two Turner Cup titles (2000; 1998) back when the Wolves competed in the now defunct International Hockey League.
Atlanta has added several offensive-minded faces to the lineup, and the result is a 3.61 goals per game average, second best in the NHL behind the Washington Capitals. Leading the charge is free agent addition Nik Antropov, formerly of the New York Rangers. Antropov scored 59 points (28G-31A) last season in 81 games split between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Rangers. He added two goals and an assist in seven playoff contests. Also joining the mix up front is Maxim Afinogenov, a Buffalo Sabres castoff who has regained his scoring touch playing alongside Antropov and fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk. Afinogenov ranks third on the Thrashers with 19 points (8G-11A) in 18 games after registering 20 points (6G-14A) in 48 games last season for Buffalo. Afinogenov possesses world-class speed and can make defenders look bad with his array of stickhandling moves. He has five goals and three assists over his past four games.

Rookie Evander Kane, the fourth-overall selection in June’s entry draft, has proven that the NHL spotlight is not too bright for an 18-year-old. He ranks sixth on the Thrashers with 11 points (6G-5A). His six goals are tied for second among all rookies behind John Tavares’ nine tallies. Last season, playing for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League, Kane racked up 96 points (48G-48A) in 61 games.

Two veteran additions have helped improve the Atlanta defense core, as Pavel Kubina arrived via a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the summer and Christoph Schubert was claimed off waivers from the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 2. Kubina excels at both ends of the rink, having registered 40 points in each of his past two seasons with Toronto. He has hit double digits in goals on five separate occasions, including a career-high 17 for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04. This year Kubina has nine points (3G-6A) and a plus-9 rating in 17 games. Schubert is a physical presence who has had several memorable run-ins with the Penguins, most notably with Gary Roberts during the Penguins and Senators back-to-back playoff meetings in 2007 and ’08.
Atlanta boasts three scoring lines that have proven to be as dangerous as any in the NHL through the first quarter of the season, led by the always-dangerous Ilya Kovalchuk. One of the game’s best sharpshooters, Kovalchuk leads Atlanta in goals with 13 despite playing in only 12 games. His 21 points rank second on the squad behind Rich Peverley. Always among the league leaders in shots on goal, Kovalchuk enjoys seeing the Penguins come to town, as he has recorded 33 points (18G-15A) in 26 career games against Pittsburgh. Kovalchuk has already recorded five two-goal games in ’09-10. Former Nashville Predator Peverley has continued his strong play which began last season after arriving in Atlanta. Centering a line between rookie Evander Kane and former Penguin Colby Armstrong, Peverley has registered 23 points (8G-15A) and is tied for the team lead with three game-winning goals. In 39 games with the Thrashers last season after being claimed off waivers, Peverley recorded 35 points (13G-22A), including five game-winners.

Armstrong has proven to be a team leader for the Thrashers since they picked him up from the Penguins in the deal which sent Pascal Dupuis and Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh on Feb. 26, 2008. An alternate captain, the 26-year-old Armstrong has six points (3G-3A) and is a plus-3 in 17 games. His former teammates know you have to be aware when he is on the ice because he is one of the game’s top open-ice body checkers. Atlanta’s offense would be even more deadly if the entire third line of Bryan Little, Todd White and Slava Kozlov weren’t experiencing tough starts offensively compared with what they did last season. Little scored 31 times in ’08-09, but has only two goals through 16 games this season. He returned to the lineup Thursday after missing two games with a groin injury. Last season White hit career highs in assists (51) and points (73), but through the first 18 games has only three goals and eight points. Long-time Thrasher Kozlov has six 70-plus point campaigns on his resume, including 76 points (26G-50A) last year, but this season has one goal and eight points.        
A weakness two seasons ago, the Atlanta defense has transformed into a strength thanks to the acquisitions of Pavel Kubina, Ron Hainsey and Christoph Schubert the past two offseasons, and the selection of Zach Bogosian with the third-overall pick of the 2008 NHL Draft. Bogosian leads all defenders with eight goals through 18 games. He has also proven to be capable of playing in all situations, as his 23:39 of ice time leads Atlanta. Already a presence at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Bogosian still has room to grow into his massive frame.

Hainsey was Atlanta’s big free agent signee last offseason following a breakout campaign with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2006-07. A former first-round selection of the Montreal Canadiens, Hainsey flourished in his first season in Atlanta, leading all Thrasher blueliners with 39 points (6G-33A) in 81 games. He has recorded 32-or-more points three straight seasons. Tobias Enstrom, a 25-year-old Swede, is Atlanta’s top all-around defenseman. He ranks ninth (tied with Alex Goligoski) among all defenders with 14 points (2G-12A) in 18 games. He ranked second on Atlanta last year with a plus-14 rating. A participant in the 2008 NHL YoungStars event at All-Star weekend, Enstrom has never missed a game since joining Atlanta.
Kari Lehtonen was drafted second overall in 2002 by the Thrashers in hopes that he would provide them a No. 1-caliber netminder for a long time. Injuries have derailed those hopes, as he has appeared in only 204 NHL games, including zero this season as he recovers from back surgery.

In his place 22-year-old Ondrej Pavelec has stepped up and given the Thrashers quality play between the pipes while splitting time with former Penguin playoff hero Johan Hedberg. Pavelec has made 14 starts, posting a record of 6-5-2 to go along with his 2.89 goals-against average and sparkling .918 save percentage.

Hedberg has found a home in Atlanta after bouncing around a bit after leaving the Penguins. He has played in seven games for the Thrashers, posting a 4-1 record, a 2.63 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage which is tied for seventh best in the league. Nicknamed the “Moose” because of the blue Manitoba Moose mask he wore after arriving in Pittsburgh late in the 2000-01 season, Hedberg went 9-9 with a 2.30 goals-against average and .911 save percentage while becoming a folk hero in Pittsburgh during the 2001 postseason. 
Nik Antropov was signed as a free agent to play with sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. Through the first 18 games of the season the pairing has been a huge success, as Kovalchuk ranks seventh (tied) in the league in goals (13) and Antropov sits tied for seventh in the NHL with 16 assists. If there has been one downfall in Antropov’s play, it is the fact he has only one goal after scoring a career-high 28 last season.

Deadly against the Penguins throughout his career, Antropov has 25 points (12G-13A) in 27 career games against Pittsburgh, with his 12 goals tied for most among any one team. A net-front presence when he plants his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame just outside the crease, Antropov is a two-time 20-plus goal scorer. In Toronto’s 6-2 win over the Penguins on Feb. 14 of last season Antropov tied a career high with three points (1G-2A) and established a new personal best with nine shots on goal.
Atlanta has played the entire season without projected No. 1 netminder Kari Lehtonen. The Finish product is one of two Thrashers currently sidelined.
- Lehtonen expects to be sidelined until sometime in late December after undergoing his second back surgery in four months on Oct. 30.
- Defenseman Boris Valabik has missed the entire season with a left ankle injury, although his return is imminent after being assigned to Chicago of the AHL on a rehab assignment Wednesday.
"He plays the game the right way and he's scoring goals to help the team win. That's why he's here."

– Ilya Kovalchuk on the offensive revival of Maxim Afinogenov in 2009-10 on the Thrashers official team website.

58: Points for Thrashers’ current scoring leader Rich Peverley through 57 career games with Atlanta (21G-37A). He registered 20 points (7G-13A) in 73 games with his previous employer, the Nashville Predators. 

Author: Jason Seidling

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