Tuesday, December 13, 2005

GameDay: @ Atlanta (11-16-4, 26 Pts) 7:00 ET

Tonight is the one and only game between these two teams this season. The Wings won the last meeting, on December 31st, 2003, a high-scoring 6-5 thriller. Henrik Zetterberg scored the game winner in overtime and Ilya Kovalchuk had three points to move to second place in NHL scoring with a total of 43. The Wings have already faced two of the NHL's newest stars in their past two games, winning both, first in Washington Friday night and then at home against the Pens last night. They held the two highest scoring rookies to three points (Alexander Ovechkin 1G, 1A and Sidney Crosby 1A) and will hope to have the same success against Ilya Kovalchuk, an established young star who is as dangerous as anyone in the league. The Wings lead their division by 5 points over Nashville with 44 and are chasing Ottawa for the league lead at 46. Their power play leads the league at 25.8% and their offense is ranked third in the league in goals-for at 115. They have never lost to the Thrashers, going 7-0-0 all-time against the relatively new expansion team. The Thrashers have won just one of their last seven games (1-4-2), with that win coming Friday against Columbus, 5-2. They have a fairly high scoring offense, putting up 106 goals so far but they have allowed 117. Only Pittsburgh has given up more (122). They are coming off a 5-4 shootout loss to Chicago Sunday in which Ilya Kovalchuk scored twice after a six-game goal drought. Kovalchuk and Marc Savard are in the league's top ten in points with 41 and 42 respectively. Atlanta's penalty kill is 26th in the league at 78.8% and should be something the Wings can work with. Chris Osgood should get his fourth start in a row tonight. Steve Yzerman is out with a groin tear and will miss the next 2-4 weeks, as mentioned last night. He suffered the injury during Sunday's practice and was replaced by Mark Mowers in the lineup last night against the Pens. Niklas Kronwall has been skating for a week now and is beginning to push himself harder, according to the Freep. They're looking at a March 1st return. Ken Holland is searching the market for a suitable defenseman to fill the gaps left by Kronwall and Jiri Fischer's absence but says he won't rush things, acknowledging that the Wings will not find anyone who will be able to fully replace either of those players. They just want someone who can shoulder some of the load. Players such as Brett Lebda and Andreas Lilja have played capably, he says, and they also have Jamie Rivers if needed. The Wings will be taking their fathers or mentors with them on this three-game road trip. I remember the December 31st, 2003 game as being one of the most exciting games of the 03-04 season and while tonight's game likely won't live up to that, I still expect a good game. The Thrashers have struggled but they do have some very good talent and it's always exciting to see Ilya Kovalchuk play.


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