(AP) — The Atlanta Thrashers were struggling in the weeks leading up to the All-Star break, but they have a good opportunity to get their second-half playoff push off to a promising start in their first game back.
The Thrashers go for their third win in as many tries this season against the lowly New York Islanders when the teams meet Tuesday night at Philips Arena.
Atlanta (24-19-9) was in third place in the Eastern Conference and leading the Southeast Division with 43 points on Dec. 20, but it has picked up just five wins in 17 games since and two victories in the last nine.
The Thrashers’ recent slide has dropped them into eighth place in the conference – one point ahead of Carolina – and 10 points behind division-leading Tampa Bay. They did get some momentum before the break with a 1-0 win over Washington last Wednesday.
“What a big game for us,” said goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who made 36 saves for the shutout. “The last couple of games we did not play very well. This was the last game before the break. We played as a team, we played all 60 minutes and we played at 100 percent. The guys were really committed. This is a big win for us.”
While Atlanta continues to struggle with injuries, including goalie Chris Mason (knee sprain), forward Jim Slater (concussion) and defenseman Tobias Enstrom (broken finger), the team hopes to have Evander Kane back soon. Kane, who has 13 goals and 14 assists, missed the last four games with a mid-body injury.
While his teammates were resting, Dustin Byfuglien is hoping to carry over his All-Star weekend performance into this week following a rough stretch to end the first half. Byfuglien entered the break on a 10-game points drought.
Byfuglien, who had a goal and led all All-Star skaters in ice time, is tied for the team lead with 16 goals and 41 points.
Byfuglien had an assist and the game-winning goal in overtime of a 2-1 win over the Islanders on Nov. 21, but was held off the scoresheet in a 5-4 victory Dec. 11. That game featured six goals in the third period, including four by Atlanta.
New York (15-27-7) has shown some improvement since that loss, which dropped the team to 5-17-5, but the Islanders still have the second-worst record in the NHL and went into the break on another losing streak.
New York has lost three straight and five of six, including a 4-2 loss to Carolina on Wednesday.
“We talk about it all the time; we have to play with a little more desperation. We’re a desperate team,” goaltender Rick DiPietro told the Islanders’ official website. “We need wins. Every game is important. Every two points is important. If we’re going to get out of this hole and have a chance to make the playoffs, we need to start winning.”
New York was held to two or fewer goals in four of its final six games before the break. However, Michael Grabner has nine points in the last eight games, including six goals.
Grabner had a goal in the overtime loss at Atlanta in November.
Updated February 1, 2011
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