by Todd Anderson
Winners of 21 of their last 28 games, the Ottawa Senators visit the Atlanta Thrashers tonight. The Thrashers will showcase forward Keith Tkachuk and defenceman Alexei Zhitnik, who were both NHL trade deadline acquisitions. Senators head coach Bryan Murray feels Atlanta made significant improvements by adding those players.
"When you do what they did, you bring an attitude to their room. Tkachuk is a real solid player, he gives them a real presence," Murray says. "He's a guy that scores lots of goals in this league. To put him in with (Ilya) Kovalchuk and kids of that nature, now the focus has to switch a little bit, which opens the door for those types of players to play a little bit better. Zhitnik on the blueline gives them mobility and a veteran presence. They're going to be a solid team going down the stretch."
Murray says he expects a different style of play from the Thrashers since they last met on Feb. 17 when Ottawa won 5-3.
"They'll probably be more physical," Murray says. "They probably won't be as open as they were. They tried to play a real skilled game for a while. With a couple of additions, I think they'll be tightening up a little. They've had a few days to prepare for this weekend now, so I expect it will be a tougher, defensive-type game."
After an outstanding performance during a 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday, Ray Emery will be back in goal tonight against Atlanta. No lineup changes are expected at any other positions for Ottawa.
Murray hinted on Thursday morning that Martin Gerber might start in goal on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m.) against the Chicago Blackhawks, but he still wasn't certain at that point.