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Gameday: Flyers face Atlanta in final test before ASG

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Atlanta Thrashers (17-25-5, 39 pts) at Philadelphia Flyers (24-12-9, 57 pts)
Wachovia Center - 7 PM EST - Philadelphia, PA
TV: CSN Philly HD, SportSouth
Radio: 610 WIP, XM 207
Check Here for Internet Streams
Behind Enemy Lines: Bird Watchers Anonymous

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What To Watch For: Looking at the standings and the Flyers recent history against the Atlanta Thrashers, you might think that this is a given matchup to chalk up in the win column. But, the Thrashers have been competitive lately, winning three straight coming into their matchup with in Philly. That three game stretch included an 7-2 schlacking of the Nashville Predators and an impressive 4-2 win last night in Montreal.

But, of course, Antero Niittymaki is in net for the Flyers, and he's completely owned the Thrashers in his career. You can even take his Atlanta success a little further, considering that he was the goalie during the Phantoms 2005 Cup run, in which they defeated Atlanta's AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, in the Finals.

Best home PP faces the worst PK in the league. That should equal PP goals for the Flyers.

Scouting the Enemy: The Thrashers are surprising right now, but their season has been as expected to this point. They are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings in 14th place. Only the lowly Islanders have less points than Atlanta. So while their strong play at the moment is encouraging, work is clearly still needed.


From today's Atlanta Journal Constitution:

[The Thrashers] need to rise further from the bottom of the NHL in defense. They need to do more than flash signs here and there that they actually can score. They need to have Ilya Kovalchuk continue to resemble other true stars around the league, and that is, he must continue to lead on the ice as well as in the locker room. They need to keep more fans from becoming allergic to their turnstiles, with Philips Arena less than half full again despite having the historically popular Canadiens in town.

Mostly, they need to acquire more talent, period, especially with the trade deadline barely six weeks away.
First year Thrasher Rich Peverley has played just four games with Atlanta since being claimed off waivers, and in those four games he already has seven points (2 goals, 5 assists). He is hot right now, but looking at his career thus far, it cannot be expected that he'll keep up this pace, and that's unfortunate for Atlanta because Peverley has been the major contributer in their recent surge. In 07/08, he scored just 10 points in 33 games with Nashville, his best NHL season. It can also be noted that he's been playing with Kovalchuk, so keep that in mind.

Between the Pipes: As mentioned, Niitty goes for the Flyers tonight.

In net for the Thra shers could be Kari Lehtonen, making it a rematch of those Calder Cup Finals from back in 05, as well as a showdown between two Finnish goalies. Lehtonen played last night, which might lead one to believe that Johan Hedberg could get the start instead, but Lehtonen had an amazing game last night. He was named first star and he made 34 saves to get the win.

Lehtonen has never defeated Niittymaki as a professional.

Injury Report: As reported yesterday, Danny Briere is not returning tonight.

As The Falconer mentioned yesterday, the Thrashers have been quite lucky when it comes to injuries this season.

So how about the Thrashers this year? They have not be as fortunate in terms of racking up lots of bonus Shoot-out points this year, but they are healthier than average for a second season in a row. Mirtle's man games lost put them at 24th out of 30 teams (or conversely the Thrashers are the 7th healthiest team).

Questions to Answer

1. Does Antero Niittymaki continue his domination of Atlanta?

2. Can Atlanta keep up it's surge, in particular Peverley?

3. Does the five day layoff hurt the Flyers?

4. Can the Flyers convert on PP chances against the leagues worst PK?