Pittsburgh Penguins (46-27-7-99) vs. Atlanta Thrashers (34-34-13-81)
09-10 Season Series: Penguins lead 3-0 09-10 Away vs. Atlanta: Penguins lead 1-0 All-Time vs. Atlanta: Penguins lead 29-8-2 All-Time Away vs. Atlanta: Penguins lead 13-4-2 Overtime: Penguins lead 5-1-2 Shootout: Penguins trail 1-2
Boston’s victory on Thursday night eliminated the Thrashers from playoff contention despite a strong 6-4-2 push which allowed Atlanta to cling to faint playoff hopes. The Thrashers will be closing out their 2009-10 campaign and celebrating fan appreciation night when they host the Penguins on Saturday. Atlanta closes out their road schedule with a contest at Washington on Friday night.
Niclas Bergfors – One of the positives from Saturday night’s matchup is the Penguins don’t have to face Bergfors until sometime next season. Bergfors has picked up points in all five games he has played against the Penguins, totaling up nine points (4G-5A) with the Thrashers and New Jersey Devils. He currently ranks fourth in the rookie point race and has actually torched a bunch of teams since joining the Thrashers. He has eight goals and 17 points in 25 games with Atlanta.
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 is still responsible in his own zone. Oduya has eight points (1G-7A) and is a plus-8 in 25 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 61 points through 80 games, tying his career high set in ’06-07. Afinogenov represented Team Russia during the 2010 Olympics, scoring a goal and an assist in four games.
Colby Armstrong – The former Penguin will return to the lineup on Friday night in Washington after serving a brief two-game suspension for elbowing the Capitals Mathieu Perreault on April 1. Armstrong hit double-digits in goal scoring for the fifth-consecutive season, while his next point will give him a fifth-straight 30-point campaign. An alternate captain for the Thrashers, Armstrong still plays with a physical, hard-nosed approach, which made him so popular during his time in Pittsburgh.
Evgeny Artyukhin – Few players in this league are as solidly built as 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 125 hits through 53 games. Artyukhin, whose eight goals are a career high, has posted six points (4G-2A) and 29 penalty minutes in 16 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 nine 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 79 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 five games split between Atlanta and Buffalo.
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 119 career games with Atlanta, Peverley has posted 90 points (35G-55A). This season he ranks third on the team in scoring, proving effective in all types of situations. He has been clutch (fourth in the NHL with seven game-winning goals), a great penalty killer (third in the league with five shorthanded points) and a power-play specialist (third on the team with seven man-advantage tallies).
Maxim Afinogenov Colby Armstrong
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 16th among blueliners. Bogosian leads the Thrashers in hits with 193.
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 among all defenders with 50 points (6G-44A) through 80 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 that make him effective defensively. He has a good stick and is a respectable one-on-one defender. He also leads the team with 142 blocked shots. Hainsey can also contribute offensively when asked upon, as he has hit the 25-point plateau for the fourth-consecutive season.
Zach Bogosian Tobias Enstrom
Johan Hedberg – Although the Thrashers’ playoff hopes have come up just short, the teams owes a ton of their success to Hedberg, who has given the team consistent goaltending throughout the season despite his recent 1-3-1 slide. 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 the entire season, one of the best measuring sticks at how well a netminder is playing. Also, don’t underestimate the leadership Hedberg brings to the Atlanta dressing room. He won the team’s Three Stars of the Year Award.
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
Evander Kane - Atlanta has to be pleased with the development of 18-year-old rookie Evander Kane, the fourth-overall selection in last July’s NHL Entry Draft. The feisty Kane has posted solid rookie totals of 14 goals and 26 points in 64 games. He recently picked up an assist last Saturday against the Penguins after missing a month with a broken foot. Kane should only see his role expand heading into his second season.
"We had some opportunities to win some huge games. We didn't win. We didn't do the job." - Atlanta goaltender Johan Hedberg talking to Yahoo! Sports after the Thrashers were eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday night.
“He’s played through an injury all year. He’s going to be looked at by our doctors and see what his prognosis is for the summer. We’ll find out more next week." - Thrashers head coach John Anderson speaking to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the hip injury to leading scorer Nik Antropov.
“We know the opportunity we have now with Jersey losing. These next two games are that much more important for us.” - Sidney Crosby
33.0 Pittsburgh will have plenty of chances to get pucks behind Johan Hedberg on Saturday as the Thrashers are giving up 33 shots per contest, third-worst in the NHL
799 The Penguins have talked the past month about wanting to get better managing the puck heading into the playoffs. Atlanta provides a stiff challenge in this regard, as they rank second in the league with 799 takeaways