Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-7-95) vs. Atlanta Thrashers (34-32-12-80)
09-10 Season Series: Penguins lead 2-0 09-10 Home vs. Atlanta: Penguins lead 1-0 All-Time vs. Atlanta: Penguins lead 28-8-2 All-Time Home vs. Atlanta: Penguins lead 15-4-0 Overtime: Penguins lead 4-1-2 Shootout: Penguins trail 1-2
Atlanta faces a dog fight over the next 10 days if they want to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoff field for the second time in their existence. The Thrashers enter Friday just two points behind Philadelphia, Montreal and Boston, which holds the Nos. 6-8 seeds. However the Thrashers have played one more game than each of those teams and faces the following gauntlet to close out their season: Pittsburgh (twice), New Jersey and Washington. That’s a murderer’s row stretch for any team, even one which is 6-3-1 over their past 10 games.
Niclas Bergfors – The good news: New Jersey trading the talented rookie away means the Penguins only have to face him four times a season instead of six. The bad news: Pittsburgh has to see Bergfors twice over the last five games as they battle for the Atlantic Division crown. The Penguins killer, who currently ranks fourth in the rookie point race, has actually torched a bunch of teams since joining the Thrashers. He has eight goals and 16 points in 23 games with Atlanta.
Chris Chelios – Whenever Chelios decides to hang up his skates, and based upon the fact he is still playing in the NHL at age 48, such a scenario might never occur, he will go down as one of the true great American warriors the game has seen. His next game will be the 1,650th of his storied career, fourth-most of all-time. He is the third-highest all-time leading scorer among American-born defensemen, and is just two points shy of 950 for his career. Chelios spent much of the season in the American Hockey League before signing with the Thrashers in March. He has gone scoreless with a minus-2 rating in five games.
Johnny Oduya – A change of scenery has improved the play of the 28-year-old Oduya, who along with Bergfors was one of the key components to the Ilya Kovalchuk trade. Prior to this season Oduya had improved each season with the Devils, morphing into a D-man capable of supplying secondary offense from the blue line, yet still responsible in his own zone. Oduya has eight points (1G-7A) and is plus-9 in 23 games with the Thrashers after posting just four points (2G-2A) and a plus-2 mark in 40 contests with New Jersey.
Maxim Afinogenov – An explosive goal scorer earlier in his career with the Buffalo Sabres, Afinogenov has regained his form during his first season with the Thrashers. The 30-year-old Russian hit the 20-goal mark this season for the fourth time in his career and first since the ’06-07 campaign. He ranks second on the team with 60 points through 78 games, leaving him one point shy of tying his career high, also set in ’06-07. Afinogenov represented Team Russia during the 2010 Olympics, scoring a goal and an assist in four games.
Nik Antropov – Atlanta’s marquee offseason addition has been everything the team could have hoped for during his first season with the team. The 6-foot-6 Kazakhstan native leads the Thrashers in goals (24), points (66) and rating (plus-16). His 66 points are seven better than last season’s career high, making this the third season in a row his numbers have gone up. His 24 goals are all the more impressive when you factor in he went the first 17 games of the season without one.
Evgeny Artyukhin – Few players in this league are as solidly built is Artyukhin, who at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds can be considered right up there with a small freight train. Not only does he possess such size, he is not afraid to use it to his advantage. He ranks third on the team with 123 hits through 52 games. Artyukhin, whose eight goals are a career high, has posted six points (4G-2A) and 29 penalty minutes in 15 games with the Thrashers.
Bryan Little – Much was expected of Little this season following a 31-goal breakout campaign last year, but the pucks haven’t gone in with as much regularity in ’09-10. A huge reason has been Little’s streakiness. He has currently gone seven games without a goal. His previous goal-less streaks this season constituted 10, 8, 12 and 10 games. However he is just 22-years-old, has an explosive shot and works hard enough that he should regain his goal-scoring form in ’10-11.
Clarke MacArthur – It was at least mildly surprising to see the Buffalo Sabres deal a potential power forward like MacArthur at the trading deadline, but that’s exactly what happened. The 24-year-old winger, who has good hands around the net, has 15 goals in 77 games with the Sabres and Thrashers, leaving him two shy of his career high set last season. He has been effective against the Penguins this season with five assists in four games, all with the Sabres.
Rich Peverley - I’d say the Thrashers have gotten their moneys worth from Peverley since claiming him off waivers from the Nashville Predators midway through last season. In 117 career games with Atlanta, Peverley has posted 89 points (34G-55A). This season he ranks third on the team in scoring, proving effective in all types of situations. He has been clutch (third in the NHL with seven game-winning goals), a great penalty killer (second in the league with five shorthanded points) and a power-play specialist (third on the team with seven man-advantage tallies).
Maxim Afinogenov Nik Antropov
Bryan Little Rich Peverley
Zach Bogosian – The Thrashers got a good one when they made Bogosian the third-overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Still just 19-years-old, Bogosian is already an alternate captain for the Thrashers. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds he still has plenty of room to continue growing into his frame. His offensive numbers are up all across the board, as his 10 goals rank 14th among blueliners. Bogosian leads the Thrashers in hits with 187.
Tobias Enstrom – Enstrom’s name is rarely mentioned when it comes to the league’s top offensive defensemen, but if he keeps improving and producing at the rate he has his first three seasons, that will change in a hurry. He enters Friday ranked sixth (tied) among all defenders with 49 points (6G-43A) through 78 games. A fantastic skater and even better passer, only three D-men have picked up more assists. Enstrom has also proven quite durable, having never missed a game his first two-plus seasons.
Ron Hainsey – Although Hainsey isn’t as physical as one would hope and expect from a guy who stands 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, there are other facets of his game which make him effective defensively. He has a good stick and is a respectable one-on-one defender. He also leads the team with 136 blocked shots. Hainsey can also contribute offensively when asked upon, as he has an outside shot of reaching the 30-point plateau for the fourth-consecutive season.
Pavel Kubina – Adding Kubina to the fold was another shrewd offseason move for Thrashers general manager Don Waddell. Kubina ranks second among the team’s blueliners with 38 points (6G-32A), the seventh time in his career he has surpassed 30 points. He is two points shy of tying his career high of 40, set in each of the past two seasons. Kubina logs major minutes in all situations for the Thrashers, leading the team with an average ice time of 22:37 minutes per game.
Zach Bogosian Tobias Enstrom
Johan Hedberg – If you would have asked Atlanta fans in September where they thought the team would be if Hedberg spent much of the season as the No. 1 goaltender, they probably wouldn’t have said fighting for a playoff berth. The 36-year-old has been arguably the Thrashers MVP, winning 20 games for the first time since the 2001-02 season with the Penguins. He has ranked among the league leaders in save percentage, one of the best measuring sticks at how well a netminder is playing, the entire season. Also, don’t underestimate the leadership Hedberg brings to the Atlanta dressing room.
Ondrej Pavelec – Kari Lehtonen was supposed to be the Thrashers’ goaltender of the future, but his constant injuries and subsequent trade to Dallas now bestows that honor to Pavelec. The 22-year-old Czech has been up and down throughout the season, but for the most part has displayed the necessary skill level for Atlanta to feel good about his progression.
Johan Hedberg Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Thorburn - Former Penguins winger Chris Thorburn will be able to find a home in the league for a number of years to come thanks to all the things he can do away from the puck. Thorburn has developed into an outstanding penalty killer – evidenced by his three shorthanded tallies, which are fifth-most (tied) in the league. He plays a gritty game, ranking fourth on the team with 98 hits and second with 87 penalty minutes. Thorburn is very reliable defensively, ranking third (tied) on the squad with a plus-7 rating. He has four goals and 13 points in 72 games.
"We've got to find ways to win and get points. If everything stays the same, we are out of the playoffs." - Atlanta head coach John Anderson talking to Yahoo! Sports on the Thrashers’ perilous playoff push.
“It happened to us again. We had an opportunity to jump out of ninth place, and we couldn’t do it. It’s frustrating. We played a pretty good game, and we have something to build on. But there are only four games left, and we are running out of chances.” - Thrashers forward Nik Antropov lamenting to the Atlanta Journal Constitution on the Thrasher’s missed opportunity to pull closer to the eighth seed following a 2-1 loss at Washington on Thursday.
“We know (Atlanta is) going to be desperate, and that’s a good thing for us. I think that we need that with whomever we play. In the next five games, we have to worry about ourselves. We know that we’re better than we’ve played the last little bit." - Sidney Crosby
10-9-4 The Thrashers have posted a 10-9-4 record since trading sniper Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils
.372 Atlanta has struggled in close games this season, posting just a 16-15-12 record in one-goal games, the third-worst mark in the NHL. Their 15 one-goal losses lead the league