It has been a month since the Atlanta Thrashers traded away the
player who holds nearly every offensive franchise record, but
they’re not having problems scoring goals.
Offense has never come easily for Atlanta, however, against
The Thrashers look to continue their unlikely playoff push with
a third straight victory Saturday night against the struggling
Tampa Bay Lightning, who will likely have Niittymaki in net as the
goalie tries to improve to 17-0-0 against Atlanta.
The Thrashers figured to have a hard time replacing Ilya
Kovalchuk’s offense when they dealt the team’s longtime goals and
points leader to New Jersey on Feb. 4.
But after losing its first game without the Russian, Atlanta has
averaged 4.0 goals during a 4-0-2 stretch that straddled the
Olympic break. The team has won twice since the NHL resumed play,
moving into an eighth-place tie in the Eastern Conference with the
New York Rangers and Montreal.
“I think we feel good about ourselves,” Atlanta coach John
Anderson said. “I don’t know if it’s momentum or confidence or
maybe a little bit of both. If we can keep on this roll the
playoffs are right there.”
The Thrashers (28-24-10) scored four goals in the first 15
minutes of their 6-3 win over the New York Islanders on Thursday
night, getting major contributions from some of their
Niclas Bergfors, acquired from the Devils in the Kovalchuk
trade, had his fourth goal in seven games with the Thrashers and
added an assist, while Evgeny Artyukhin and Clarke MacArthur each
scored in his Atlanta debut after trade deadline deals.
“I thought that we had instant chemistry with the new guys.
That’s a hard thing to find,” Anderson said. “If you score a couple
of goals for your new team, it endears you right away.”
Atlanta has scored a power-play goal in each of its last four
games, but it is 0 for 15 with the man advantage in its last four
meetings with the Lightning, going 0-2-2 in that stretch since a
season-opening 6-3 win over Tampa Bay.
Niittymaki was in net for three of those Lightning wins to
continue his amazing run against the Thrashers. He’s won all 16
career appearances against Atlanta dating back to his days with
Philadelphia, compiling a 1.74 goals-against average.
The Lightning (26-26-11) badly need another victory from
Niittymaki, who has a 6.92 GAA in his last three starts overall.
Tampa Bay lost its final three games before the Olympics and its
first two after the break, slipping to 11th in the East, three
points behind Atlanta.
The deficiency has been clear for the Lightning, who have
allowed five or more goals in each game during the skid, which
would match their longest of the season with one more defeat.
“I don’t know, I really don’t know,” Lightning coach Rick
Tocchet said after a 5-4 loss at Washington on Thursday. “You’ve
got to block a shot or dive to get the puck out of your own end.
Bite the puck to get it out of your own end. We need those types of
players. There are five or six guys that are costing us right
Steven Stamkos is probably not one of the players who has drawn
Tocchet’s ire. The 20-year-old phenom has five goals in his last
four games, extending his franchise-record points streak to 15