Series (Game 5 of 6)

Winnipeg leads 4-2

Game 1: Monday, November 30th
Game 2: Saturday, December 5th
Game 3: Wednesday, December 16th
Game 4: Monday, January 18th
Game 5: Saturday, February 6th
Game 6: Tuesday, March 2nd

Panthers 2

(24-25-9, 57 pts)

Jets 4

(25-24-8, 58 pts)

7:30 PM ET, February 6, 2010

Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia

1 2 3 T
FLA 2 0 02
WPG 0 2 24

N. Bergfors (Jets - RW): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

N. Antropov (Jets - RW): Goals: 0, Assists: 3

J. Oduya (Jets - D): Goals: 0, Assists: 0

Panthers-Thrashers Preview


The beginning of the post-Ilya Kovalchuk era with the Atlanta Thrashers is off to a less-than-inspiring start.

The Thrashers will play their first home game since trading their franchise scoring leader Saturday night against the offensively-challenged Florida Panthers.

Atlanta completed the biggest trade of the NHL season Thursday, sending Kovalchuk and defenseman Anssi Salmela to New Jersey for defenseman Johnny Oduya, forward Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier and a future first-round pick. The teams also swapped second-round selections in 2010.

Kovalchuk has scored a league-leading 328 goals since being picked first overall by Atlanta in 2001, but the Thrashers (24-24-8) traded the face of their franchise in part because of his salary demands ahead of being eligible for free agency in July. The deal with the Devils was completed hours after Kovalchuk rejected a 12-year, $101 million extension.

General manager Tom Waddell stated in a letter to fans that meeting Kovalchuk's demands would have presented future problems in trying to build a competitive team around him.

"We're struggling with our attendance as it is," Waddell said in a later interview. "The only way we're going to bring fans back is by winning hockey games."

Though the Thrashers are 12-10-4 at home this season, they're drawing just 13,067 per game -- a little over 70 percent of capacity at Philips Arena. Only the New York Islanders (12,584) and Phoenix (10,927) are drawing fewer at home, but there could be many more empty seats in Atlanta without arguably the team's biggest drawing card.

Playing without Kovalchuk on Friday, the Thrashers had 45 shots on goal but fell 5-2 at Washington as the Capitals extended their franchise-record winning streak to 13 games. Tobias Enstrom and Rich Peverley scored, but neither Oduya nor Bergfors recorded a point and were a combined minus-2.

In Florida's only game at Atlanta this season, the Panthers (24-24-9) fell 4-3 on Nov. 30 when Maxim Afinogenov scored with six seconds to play.

However, it's been some time since Florida has shown that kind of scoring output. Starting with a 1-0 victory over the Thrashers on Jan. 18, Florida has recorded only 10 goals during a 4-4-1 stretch, and it managed only 13 shots in a 2-1 home loss to Calgary on Friday.

The Panthers have scored just 150 goals this season, but their offense would likely be more potent if leading scorer Nathan Horton were available and if Stephen Weiss could regain his touch around the net.

Horton, who has 17 goals and 29 assists, was placed on injured reserve Jan. 23 with a broken leg, and is expected to be out until after the Olympic break. Florida has tallied only nine goals in seven games without him, getting two goals apiece from seldom-used Shawn Matthias and Dennis Seidenberg.

"Our forwards have to get grittier and have to realize they've got to pay a price to score in this league and right now we don't have enough guys that are interested in doing that," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "If it was one or two you could sit guys out but we've got lines of guys that haven't scored in 15 games. It's tough. The only way to fix that is through free agency in the summer."

Weiss has a team-best 20 goals but only one in his last 10 contests. Though he did not face the Thrashers last month, he's scored in three straight games against them as Florida has gone 1-1-1.

With the offense sputtering, the Panthers will need Tomas Vokoun to provide another solid effort in goal.

Vokoun, who needs one win to reach 20 for the seventh straight season, notched the shutout against the Thrashers in January, improving to 6-1-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average in his last eight home games against them.

A member of the Czech Republic Olympic team, Vokoun has allowed two goals or fewer in nine of his last 11 games.