Thrashers-Oilers Preview

The slumping Atlanta Thrashers have a crucial Eastern Conference

matchup next week to end their road trip. They better not overlook

the Edmonton Oilers.

Atlanta tries to avoid its first five-game road losing streak in

more than a year on Saturday when it takes on an Oilers team

looking to put a dent in another team’s playoff chances.

Tied with Buffalo for ninth place in the East – and two points

back of the final playoff spot to begin play Friday – the Thrashers

(25-24-10) close out their three-game stretch away from Philips

Arena on Wednesday versus the Sabres.

Atlanta would like to enter that matchup on a positive note, but

the club has dropped 13 of 16 and is quickly fading out of

postseason contention. After falling two points back of Carolina

for the eighth spot with Sunday’s 3-2 home defeat to the

Hurricanes, Atlanta lost 4-3 at Phoenix on Thursday after leading

3-2 late in the second period.

”Our composure level is not where it needs to be,” Atlanta

coach Craig Ramsey said. ”We’re putting the puck on net, and

sooner or later it’s bound to go in.”

Rich Peverley, who had a goal and two assists, was dealt to the

Boston Bruins on Friday as part of a four-player trade. The

Thrashers acquired defenseman Marc Stuart and forward Blake

Wheeler.

Atlanta’s last five-game road losing streak was an 0-6-2 stretch

from Dec. 16, 2009-Jan. 5, 2010.

Edmonton (18-32-8), meanwhile, is trying to win three straight

at Rexall Place for the first time since March 19-23. Since losing

a season-high seven in a row at home, the NHL-worst Oilers have

posted consecutive 4-1 wins over Dallas and Montreal to improve to

2-3-0 on a six-game stretch in Alberta.

“At the end of the day, that’s what we have right now, playing

the spoiler,” coach Tom Renney said following Thursday’s win over

the Canadiens. “We have to continue to gain respect.

“Especially after the three games that preceded these two that

have been well-chronicled as not being very good at home. We are a

proud organization. We want to represent Edmonton and our fans the

way they would like us to and that means flat-out hard work and

showing up every night.”

Getting called out by general manager Steve Tambellini prior to

Monday’s practice surely provided a boost, but the Oilers’

turnaround can largely be attributed to the improved play of

veteran netminder Nikolai Khabibulin, who has turned away 60 of 62

shots in the last two games. He had a 3.50 goals-against average

while losing his previous 14.

Khabibulin is 7-4-2 with a 2.71 GAA in 14 career starts against

Atlanta. He stopped 27 shots in the teams’ last meeting – a 3-2

Thrashers home win Nov. 15, 2009.

Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, 0-3-1 with a 4.67 GAA in his

last four road starts, has never faced Edmonton.

The Oilers’ last three-game winning streak was part of a

season-best four-game run Nov. 29-Dec. 4. They avoided a third

straight home loss to Atlanta, winning 4-3 in overtime on March 12,

2009, in the teams’ last matchup at Rexall Place.