Neither the Rangers nor the Thrashers have been playing good hockey recently. Atlanta is trying to break a four game losing streak, and a stretch of games where they haven't won in regulation since January 26th. The Rangers are trying to not lose six games in a row, in what is becoming a slide down the Eastern Conference Standings.
These two teams always play solid hockey when they face off against each other, though in the last eight meetings the Thrashers have the upper hand, going 6-1-1 in some regular season revenge against the team that swept them out of the playoffs in 2007. The Rangers are without captain Chris Drury, who is going to have to undergo surgery on his left knee and will be out for up to six weeks. Marian Gaborik hasn't scored for the past five games, and Martin Biron is getting used more and more often, going 8-6-2 for a team that usually plays starter Henrik Lundqvist 70 games a season.
Of course, the Thrashers have significant issues as well. Dustin Byfuglien finally broke a 13 game point streak on Saturday night against Toronto in the 5-4 loss, but also caused a goal with an awful backhand pass to no one in particular. Jim Slater is still out with a concussion, and Fredrik Modin will be out tonight for a lower body injury sustained in the game Saturday. Ondrej Pavelec is 0-3-1 with a 4.01 GAA this month, making the days of him being second in the league in save percentage and goals against average just a distant memory. As the AJC's Jeff Schultz points out, the Thrashers are having less and less time to right this ship. Thankfully, they're getting a shot in the arm tonight.
The Thrashers' number two scorer, Tobias Enstrom, is back after missing six games with a broken finger sustained the last time these two teams played. His defensive partner Byfuglien has sorely missed Enstrom; recently Buff has been paired with Johnny Oduya and a slightly-improving Zach Bogosian on the power play. Enstrom is the quarterback of the first PP unit, and while Bogosian is adept at firing the puck in, his aim can be off and he hasn't been strong at holding the blue-line. Bogosian will be paired with Ron Hainsey, who has earned his way up the depth chart with solid play this season. Gone are the days of opponents scoring with the help of Hainsey, but the pairing of Hainsey/Bogosian didn't work at all last season. Hopefully this will be different. Oduya and Sopel will be the third pairing, with Arturs Kulda in the pressbox.
With Fredrik Modin out, the lines for tonight's game will be this (via Chris Vivlamore of the AJC):
I don't usually offer personal commentary into the game day write-ups, but I significantly disagree with the line combinations. Sending a message to Peverley to be more responsible is great, but when the team is having problems scoring, it might behoove the team to have Peverley play in a position where he'll be able to do so. Switching Peverley and Chris Thorburn, moving Tim Stapleton to the left wing on that line, moving Alexander Burmistrov up to center it, and putting Patrice Cormier between Thorburn and Boulton would create a solid energy/checking line as well as a line that would have potentially more chances to score, Tim Stapleton notwithstanding.
Of course, I don't get paid to coach, so take that as you will.
Tonight being a Friday night game at Blueland means a 7:30 puck drop, but if you want to snag some of the traditional Valentines Day autographed pucks, I suggest getting there closer to 6:30.