KEY TO VICTORY
Solve Lehtonen: The Thrashers are the second-hottest team in the league right now (only Pittsburgh is has a better record in the last 10 games). The biggest reason for Atlanta's success has been the play of netminder Kari Lehtonen who has been unbeatable in his last five starts (read below for more on his play). The Penguins will have to do what other team's have failed to do recently, put pucks behind Lehtonen.
LOWDOWN ON THE THRASHERS
Two seasons ago, the Thrashers were on top of the world. Atlanta went 43-28-11 for 97 points en route to the winning the Southeast Division. However, the Thrashers hit rock bottom last season. Head coach Bob Hartley was fired after six games and replaced by general manager Don Waddell. The team imploded, dropping 21 points in the standings and traded away its top player – Marian Hossa. Atlanta committed to a youth movement in the offseason and built around its cornerstone - Ilya Kovalchuk.
Waddell tapped John Anderson as the Thrashers new head coach. Anderson is a players’ coach who had success the past 13 years with the Chicago Wolves, Atlanta’s top minor-league affiliate. Anderson has won five championships during that stretch, including his latest last season. It’s been a tough year for the Thrashers and they’ve experienced many growing pains with the young lineup. However, the team appears to have turned a corner in its progress. The Thrashers are riding a franchise-record six-game winning streak and have a 10-3-1 mark in their last 14 games. In fact, in the last 10 games only Pittsburgh (8-0-2) has been better than Atlanta (8-2-0) in the entire NHL. It will be a matchup between the two hottest teams in the league.
The Thrashers got a new look to the lineup last season with help from the Penguins. With the playoffs out of the picture and contract-extension talks stalled with Marian Hossa, the Thrashers decided to move the best player on the block. They shipped away Hossa and Pascal Dupuis to Pittsburgh for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a first-round pick (Daultan Leveille). The Thrashers let veterans Bobby Holik, Mark Recchi and Jason Krog walk in free agency. With extra roster positions, Waddell made a few offseason pick ups - signing defenseman Ron Hainsey and forwards Jason Williams and Marty Reasoner.
Waddell was very busy leading up to the trade deadline. The Thrashers then dealt Williams to Columbus in exchange for Clay Wilson and a sixth-round pick. He shipped Mathieu Schneider to Montreal for two draft picks. Waddell traded Niclas Havelid and Myles Stoesz to New Jersey for Anssi Salmela. Lastly, the Thrashers sent Christensen to Anaheim for Eric O’Dell.
Any success for Atlanta will depend upon the play of Ilya Kovalchuk. He is one of the best finishers in the game and tied a career high with 52 goals last season, second most in the league. Kovalchuk has had tremendous goal production during his six seasons in the NHL (29, 38, 41, 52, 42, 52) and, at 25 years old, is entering the prime of his career. Kovalchuk leads the team with 78 points on 36 goals and 42 assists. Kovalchuk is suffering from an upper body injury and has missed the team’s past two games. There
In the early part of the season, the Thrashers’ best line has been the trio of Vyacheslav Kozlov, Todd White and Bryan Little. The three men rank 2, 3 and 4 on the team in scoring. White is second in points with 61 (19G-42A). Kozlov is third with 59 points on 19 goals and 40 assists. Little is developing into a top-tier scoring in his second year in the league. He’s second on the team with 29 goals, while compiling 47 points on the year.
Colby Armstrong, Brett Sterling and Rich Peverley skate on the second line while the third line consists of Colin Stuart, Marty Reasoner and Eric Perrin.
Atlanta allowed the most goals (272) in the NHL last season. The Thrashers are on track to notch the same distinction by allowing 3.33 goals per game this season, the second-worst mark in the league. The defensive corps suffered a huge blow when Zach Bogosian, the team’s third-overall pick in June, broke his leg at the end of October. He was the most impressive prospect in the draft workouts and has worked through a lengthy rehab. The 18-year old returned missed 25 games due to the injury.
Ron Hainsey, Columbus’ 13th pick in 2000, anchors Atlanta’s blue line. Hainsey is an offensive-minded defenseman that likes to roam and join the rush. He is excelling under coach Anderson’s free-flowing style. Hainsey already has 35 points this season, leading the defensive corps. Tobias Enstrom, an eighth-round pick in 2003, had a breakout rookie campaign last year. He played in all 82 games and recorded 38 points with 33 assists. Slovakian Boris Valabik is a big, physical defenseman who stands 6-foor-7 and is 240 pounds. Garnet Exelby and Nathan Oystrick round out the group.
Kari Lehtonen was supposed to be the next great goaltender in the NHL when Atlanta selected him second overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. He saw his first action at 19 years old and was dubbed the Thrashers’ starter at 21 following the lockout. He hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, although he hasn’t had much help over the past three years. But through it all, Lehtonen is the club’s all-time leader in games played (200), wins (93), shutouts (14) and save percentage (.913). Lehtonen made 49 saves on 50 shots against the Washington Capitals Monday night to lead Atlanta to a 5-1 victory. He’s caught fire lately and has been the biggest reason for the Thrashers’ recent surge. In his last five games, Lehtonen is 5-0-0 with a 1.18 goals against average, .966 save percentage and two shutouts.
Former Penguin Johan “The Moose” Hedberg, a couple years removed from his magical playoff run in Pittsburgh, has found himself a home in Atlanta as the team’s backup goaltender. In the past three seasons with the Thrashers, Hedberg has a 31-28-8 record in spot duty. Ondrej Pavelec is a 21-year-old prospect that the organization is high on. He went 33-15-4 with a 2.77 GAA and a .911 save percentage with the Wolves and led Anderson’s team to the Calder Cup.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: BRYAN LITTLE
Bryan Little has broken out of his shell in a big way. Little was the 12th-overall selection by the Thrashers in the 2006 draft. He broke into the league last year at 20 years old, playing 48 games, and tallying 16 points (6G-10A).
There has been no sophomore slump for Little. The Edmonton native has established himself as a legitimate scoring threat with 29 goals on the season already. He’s also chipped in 11 power-play goals and 47 points on the season. The future is bright for Little and he’s already shining.
"THEY SAID IT"
“Hopefully our coaching staff and this team as we are now takes this and starts to improve with it and run with it and not say that’s enough. We have to get that thought of winning all the time and daresay become a championship team.”
- Thrashers head coach John Anderson to the Atlanta Journal Constitution on the team’s six-game winning streak
POINT OF INTEREST
Vyacheslav Kozlov tied a franchise record by playing in his 189th consecutive game.
(MALKIN should be playing)
Notes for todays game:
With Sidney Crosby heating up, it's no surprise that the Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the league's best teams recently. Without Ilya Kovalchuk in the lineup, it's pretty remarkable that the Atlanta Thrashers are also surging.
Crosby and the Penguins look to snap Atlanta's franchise-record six-game winning streak Tuesday night when the teams meet at Mellon Arena.
Pittsburgh (37-26-8) has come away with at least a point in each of its last 10 games, going 8-0-2 since Feb. 25 to climb into fifth place in the Eastern Conference - two points behind Philadelphia for the fourth spot but only four ahead of ninth-place Florida.
The Penguins earned a big home win over conference-leading Boston on Sunday, rallying for four goals in the third period of the 6-4 victory. Crosby had three assists, Chris Kunitz scored two goals and added an assist and Petr Sykora put them ahead to stay with his goal 9:29 mark into the third.
Crosby has four goals and seven assists in six games since returning from a groin injury, and an active 10-game point streak.
"It's not something on my mind right now, I'm trying to do my best and help with this last push here," said Crosby, who also has at least one point in each of his last five games against the Thrashers (29-35-6). "It's a big time for us. You see how tight the games are now, every team is desperate and battling hard."
With his team in a tight race, Evgeni Malkin has continued to play despite an illness. Interim coach Dan Blysma told the Penguins' official Web site that the center was given the day off from practice Monday to see a doctor, but the coach believes he'll be ready to go on Tuesday.
"The last few days he hasn't been feeling great, but that's not different from other times of the year when guys are sick," he said. "It was just a situation where it was best to see the doctor and get it taken care of, rule things out and get some rest."
Malkin has been held without a point the last two games. He hasn't gone scoreless in three straight games since a five-game drought Feb. 27-March 6, 2007, when he was still a rookie.
Malkin has two goals and six assists against three games against Atlanta this season - all Pittsburgh victories. The Penguins have defeated the Thrashers four straight times dating to the end of last season.
Meanwhile, Atlanta earned its club-record sixth straight win Monday, beating Washington 5-1 at home as Tobias Enstrom and Slava Kozlov each had a goal and an assist and goaltender Kari Lehtonen recorded a career-high 49 saves.
The Thrashers have outscored opponents 23-9 during the winning streak.
"Certainly as a coaching staff and a management staff, it makes you feel good about your young players and the direction that we are heading," first-year coach John Anderson said. "There are still lots of games left. We care about ourselves and we care about each other."
Anderson's team has scored nine goals in the last two games despite the absence of Kovalchuk. The Atlanta captain, out with an upper-body injury, is fourth in the NHL with 36 goals. His status for Tuesday isn't known.
(Kovalchuk should be back)
If not go here and these are the lines that were played monday...
64 Points: 82
29 Wins: 37
3 Shutouts: 3
10 Power Play Rank: 24
28 Penalty Kill Rank: 16
.783 Win % When Leading After 1: .600
.952 Win % When Leading After 2: .704
.111 Win % When Trailing After 1: .474
.147 Win % When Trailing After 2: .355
GOALS: 36 I. Kovalchuk - 30 E. Malkin
ASSISTS: 43 T. White - 67 E. Malkin
POINTS: 78 I. Kovalchuk - 97 E. Malkin
+/-: 11 M. Reasoner - 18 E. Malkin
OT GOALS: 1 R. Peverley - 2 E. Malkin
Videos of Interest!
Ruslan Fedotenko VS Colby Armstrong
Will They Go Again? (This time dont break your hand off his face!)
thanks..lol ya well shes making dinner even though were both cooks at different jobs but shes like im making irish food... then i gotta go to school at 530 soo im hoping for a streaming... or say f school and stay and watch it with her... and shes cool and loves the pens i bought her a hat
Hope we don't underestimate this team. But anyone else think were due for a comfortable win, damn. Every game lately seems to be close to the end, can we just have a blowout here so I don't have to have a heart attack. GO PENS.
Atlanta are red hot right now, even when missing some key personnel. I gather from this article that the Thrashers will not have Kovulchuk, Slater or Hainsey in the lineup tonight. I think Hainsey got injured last night against Washington. I wonder if we'll see the Moose or see Lehtonen. Kari is obviously red hot, but he had a lot of work last night and not sure if he'll need some rest.
Here's a link to the article that says Kovy, Slater and Hainsey are out.