The Thrashers always seem to pick the absolute worst teams to lose against. The season sweep by the Tampa Bay Lightining, barring a huge collapse by Tampa Bay, is probably going to keep the Thrashers from getting back into first place in the Southeast Division. Being down 0-0-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes isn't helpful either. The point that the Thrashers let get away from them on January 9th by losing in overtime is a vital one, because it could have supplied a little more padding for an eighth place position that's rapidly slipping away. Losing those two points to Carolina make tonight's game that much more do-or-die.
Tonight's game is between two teams that haven't won since the All-Star break. It's also between two teams who've been prone to defensive SNAFUs and a severe lack of goal-scoring ability; the Thrashers have managed four goals over the past three games, and the Hurricanes were shut out by the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night.
Defensively, the Thrashers didn't get any help Thursday with Freddy Meyer passing out at center ice, and with Brent Sopel blocking a shot off his foot and playing gingerly for much of the third period. The Thrashers have called up defenseman Arturs Kulda from the Chicago Wolves. Kulda, who was Zach Bogosian's defensive pairing partner in Juniors, was outstanding last season for the Wolves, notching a +49 for the season. He contended for the seventh defenseman playoff spot until the end of camp, but ultimately it was determined that playing in the AHL would be better for his development than sitting in the pressbox in the NHL. Seeing as how Enstrom should be out for another week or two, Kulda should get plenty of playing time for right now.
No huge changes between Thursday night and tonight:
Expect the same lineup tonight, except for Kulda, who'll be paired w/Sopel. Pavelec vs. Ward.
Neither Ondrej Pavelec nor Cam Ward is a slouch in net. This (in theory, but I've been proven wrong a few times this year) shouldn't be a blowout one way or the other. Between both of the teams' current inability to score and their goaltending, a 3-2 game one way or the other wouldn't shock me.
When you look at the record for the Thrashers, tonight seems like a hard road ahead. The team is 5-10-4 in their last nineteen games, is 1-for-17 on the powerplay over the last eight, have been outscored 15-5 in their last four games and haven't been able to score more than two goals in their last six. Dustin Byfuglien might still lead the team in points, but he's no longer the league's top defenseman. He has gone point-less in the last twelve games.
You have two teams who are basically evenly matched going into tonight's game - it boils down to who wants it more. The way that the Thrashers have been playing, it's questionable what, if anything, they want right now. Don't believe me that they're well matched? Check out the team comparison from CBS Sports:
|Head to Head|
|Power Play Goals||38||39|