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New York Rangers At Atlanta Thrashers: Two Important Points At Stake Tonight For Atlanta

In what seems like a neverending quest for points in the standings, the Thrashers take on the New York Rangers tonight, who are currently in 7th place, and who have three points on Atlanta. Of course, the 9th place Carolina Hurricanes also play tonight, and they are two points behind the Thrashers. What could have been just another mid-season game has turned into a mid-season must win.

The Thrashers have been having problems doing that recently. They're 4-4-2 their last ten games, losing Thursday night to Tampa Bay in a shootout. They've been having problems on the penalty kill, which is still 29th in the league at 75.6% effectiveness. You can't win a game when you take penalties and are unable to kill them. The penalty kill's lack of effictiveness has absolutely shot Ondrej Pavelec's stats for right now, raising his GAA by more than 1, and knocking his save percentage down a peg. Since January 7th, Pavelec has a 4.09 GAA:

2010 - Ondrej Pavelec 35 1993 16 11 82 2.47 1107 1025 .926 2


Pavelec gets the start, and according to the AJC's Chris Vivlamore, will be getting the start tomorrow in Tampa Bay. Chris Mason joined the ranks of the walking wounded last Saturday night in Dallas, so the team has to rely on Pavelec more than ever for the points that they need to get. 

Someone that the team also relies on for points and leadership is Dustin Byfuglien. Unfortunately, Big Buff has been on a bit of a cool streak recently. He hasn't scored a point in seven games - the last he scored was a goal on January 2nd against Montreal. Apparently he is a barometer of the team's performance. After a stellar December, both the Thrashers and Byfuglien have cooled significantly.

Injuries and illnesses are catching up to the Thrashers. Yesterday's practice at Duluth saw five players (Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Chris Thorburn, Jim Slater, and Mason) not skate, and while Fredrik Modin did skate he's still nursing an injury that will prevent him from playing tonight. Nik Antropov is also playing at half gas, still not recovered from off-season surgery.  Zach Bogosian flat out will not play tonight again. Bogosian had been a healthy scratch the past two games before this one.

This is the second time that the Thrashers and Rangers have met this season. The last meeting on October 27th, Atlanta won 6-4. The Rangers are dealing with injuries of their own. Brandon Dubinsky, their leading scorer, will probably miss a month with a stress fracture in his left leg. Ryan Callahan is out with a broken hand, Alexander Frolov is out for the remainder of the season, and Vaclav Prospal needs knee surgery. Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist are the Rangers two most dangerous healthy players, though there is a possibility that with four goals and an assist against the Toronto Maple Leafs the other night, Gaborik might've gotten the scoring out of his system for now.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.