Pittsburgh Penguins at Atlanta Thrashers
Pittsburgh - 11-19-9 - 31 pts - 14th in East - 11 pts out of playoffs
Atlanta - 18-18-6 - 42 pts - 8th (tied) in East
So here's where we find out if it's for real, right? The Pens have put together a nice little run, but if they want it to continue, they're going to have to get 3 or 4 points out of this weekend. That would put them in good position to make a serious run at the playoffs in the second half of the season, and take away potential points from a team they're going to have to catch.
Atlanta has been hot lately, going 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. They have lost two of the past four games, however. The key to beating Atlanta is relatively simple - keep them off the scoreboard. I know that's easier said that done, but if you contain them offensively, you're going to get your chance to win the game. A big part of that is limiting their power play chances, and getting the big kill when they do go on the power play. That's going to be the real challenge for the Pens tonight (and tomorrow) - stay out of the box and get the big kill.
Atlanta also has a rookie goalie named Kari Lehtonen. He's only played a little over four games so far, but he's been pretty good. His save percentage isn't the best, but he's big (6'4") and positionally sound. Hopefully the Pens can greet him rudely by scoring in bunches.
Offensively, the Thrashers top players have picked apart the Pens this year. Kovalchuk, Hossa, Savard, Havelid, Bondra and Kozlov all have three points or more in the two games against the Pens. Therrien's system will get a real test tonight.
The Thrashers will be playing with Bobby Holik, which may be a blessing in disguise for the Thrashers, as he's a -10 on the year. He is excellent defensively, however, and it could mean more room to work for Sidney Crosby.
According to the game day preview in the Post-Gazette, Thibault will get the start tonight, with Fleury playing tomorrow night at home. Hopefully Thibault is sterling again like he was last Monday in Toronto - the team will really need it.
The Pens need these points. We'll get to see how well the system really works, and how serious the team is about competing for the playoffs.
Let's go Pens!