Thrashers-Sabres Preview

The first-place Buffalo Sabres hope the new year brings more of

the same for a team that appears set on ending a two-year playoff

drought.

The Atlanta Thrashers, meanwhile, are sorely in need of a fresh

start in 2010.

What has begun as a disastrous road trip continues in Buffalo on

Friday night for the Thrashers, who have lost six straight overall

but will be trying to win their seventh consecutive meeting with

the Sabres.

Atlanta’s seven-game trip is its longest of the season, and the

Thrashers (18-17-4) have no points to show for the first four

stops. They’ve dropped a season-worst six straight overall and are

1-8-0 in their last nine road games after starting 9-2-1 away from

home.

Coach John Anderson called his team “very fragile” after what

may have been its lowest point Wednesday night in Boston, where

goalie Ondrej Pavelec was pulled in the first period for the second

time in eight days in a 4-0 loss to the Bruins.

Atlanta also had some uncharacteristic offensive problems,

matching a season low with 18 shots on goal and getting shut out

for the first time.

“I can’t see too many positives,” said Johan Hedberg, who

replaced Pavelec. “The only thing you can take from it is you have

to feel like it’s a wakeup call for us as a team and we have to

realize it’s not fun. We’ve been in this situation the three years

I’ve been here in Atlanta. We have good stretches and we have

terrible stretches and all of a sudden the terrible stretch is too

long and you’re out of the playoff picture.”

Atlanta has slipped to the fringe of postseason position while

matching its longest losing streak from last season. The team last

dropped seven in a row while going 0-5-3 from Feb. 16-March 5,

2008.

The Sabres will try to exploit an Atlanta penalty-kill unit that

has allowed opponents to convert 45.5 percent (10 of 22) of their

power plays in the last seven games. Buffalo is 3 for 11 (27.3

percent) on the power play in its last three.

The Thrashers can at least cling to a strong recent history

against Buffalo. Since a 10-1 loss at HSBC Arena on Jan. 18, 2008,

Atlanta has beaten the Sabres six straight times, including a 4-2

win at Buffalo on Oct. 17 in which Hedberg made 40 saves.

Star forward Ilya Kovalchuk scored two goals for Atlanta in that

game. His 10-game point streak was snapped in Boston.

Kovalchuk may encounter a star goalie trying to bounce back from

an off night. Buffalo workhorse Ryan Miller ranks fourth in the NHL

with a 2.05 goals-against average, but he was yanked from Tuesday

night’s game against Pittsburgh after allowing three goals on 11

shots in the first 22 minutes.

With Patrick Lalime in net, the Sabres (24-11-4) charged back

from a three-goal deficit to beat the reigning Stanley Cup

champions 4-3, strengthening their hold on the Northeast Division

lead. It was their second straight victory after beating St. Louis

5-3 on Sunday.

“We’ve won back to back now,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “Now we

need to try to run a few more together.”

Ruff called right wing Drew Stafford the team’s “best player”

after he had been benched against the Blues. Stafford had two goals

and an assist Tuesday, scoring on a penalty shot.

“It comes back to how you respond,” Stafford said. “It’s being

professional about it, not feeling sorry for yourself. It’s just

going back to work.”