Thrashers-Blue Jackets Preview

While the Columbus Blue Jackets have long faded out of
contention for the playoffs, the same appears to be happening to
the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Thrashers seek to end a three-game slide Thursday night when
they visit the Blue Jackets, who hope to have superstar Rick Nash
back in the lineup.

Columbus (26-30-11) won’t be returning to the playoffs thanks to
a dismal season in which coach Ken Hitchcock was fired Feb. 3 and
reigning Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason has struggled to post a
3.15 goals-against average after finishing 2008-09 at 2.29.

Atlanta (28-27-10), which has also made the playoffs only once
in 2007, seemed to be building for the future when it traded Ilya
Kovalchuk to New Jersey on Feb. 4. The Thrashers, though, got back
into contention with a 4-0-2 stretch from Feb. 6-March 4.

That was right before this current slide in which Atlanta has
scored three goals and fallen four points behind Boston, which
holds the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Thrashers fell 2-1 at home to Nashville on Tuesday.

“We’re not out of it,” winger Chris Thorburn said. “We’ve still
got some games left, but we’ve got to start putting some wins
together instead of losses.”

The Thrashers fell behind 2-0 after one period and finished 0
for 2 on the power play, extending their drought to 10 chances with
the man advantage during this skid.

“They had two power plays, they had one shot – it went in the
net,” coach John Anderson said. “You look at the shots we had on
our power play, and it doesn’t go in. It’s just a bounce here and a
bounce there and it went against us tonight.”

Atlanta will have a new but very familiar face in the lineup
Thursday when 48-year-old defenseman Chris Chelios makes his
Thrashers debut. Chelios, entering his 26th NHL season, has
appeared in 46 games for Chicago of the AHL this season, recording
five goals and 17 assists.

Chelios has won the Norris Trophy three times and is an 11-time
All-Star.

“Chris has been an outstanding leader and mentor for our young
players in Chicago and his level of play has made him deserving of
this opportunity,” Atlanta General Manager Don Waddell said. “He’s
a tremendous competitor who strengthens our group of defensemen and
instantly adds a veteran presence to our locker room.”

Scoring has also become a problem for Atlanta against the Blue
Jackets, who have won three straight over the Thrashers. Columbus
posted two shutouts in a row before winning 4-3 on Nov. 5 as Jakub
Voracek and Derick Brassard each had a goal and an assist and
Mathieu Garon made 32 saves.

Nash has 28 goals to lead the Blue Jackets to go with 29
assists, but was scratched for the first time in Monday’s 5-2 win
at Anaheim with a lower-body injury. His status is day-to-day.

Kristian Huselius, second on the team with 30 assists, sat out
his second straight game with a hand injury.

The short-handed Blue Jackets, though, got 36 saves from Garon
to bounce back one night after an embarrassing 6-0 loss at Los
Angeles. Mason was pulled in the first period of that contest after
allowing four goals on 13 shots.

“We wanted to bounce back,” Garon said. “We were not satisfied
at all, and sometimes it’s a good thing to get right back at it the
next day. I think we responded really well.”

Columbus emphatically ended a 0-for-14 skid on the power play
with three goals Monday by Voracek, Brassard and Antoine Vermette.
Voracek, Vermette and Fedor Tyutin all finished with a goal and two
assists.

The Blue Jackets are 0-1-2 in their last three home games.