Thrashers seek third straight against Kings
KINGS (11-6-2) at THRASHERS (8-6-1)
Last 10 --
Los Angeles 6-2-2; Atlanta 4-5-1
Season series --
This marks the only meeting of the season between the Kings and Thrashers, who played a wild one out in L.A. about nine months ago. Ilya Kovalchuk scored twice for Atlanta and Anze Kopitar
notched a pair of power-play goals for Los Angeles, but it was ultimately Erik Christensen's goal in the fourth round of a shootout that lifted the Thrashers to a 7-6 victory.
Big story --
We're still waiting on Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin to return from their injuries, but one Russian superstar made his comeback Thursday night in a big way. Kovalchuk returned to the Thrashers' lineup after missing six games with a broken bone in his right foot and had a goal and two assists in a win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Kopitar has tied Ovechkin for the League lead in goal scoring with 14, and his 30 points are six more than the Rangers' Marian Gaborik. Los Angeles hit a recent bump in the road with consecutive regulation losses to Nashville and Chicago, but the Kings got well again at the expense of hapless Carolina on Wednesday, extending the Hurricanes' losing streak to 13 straight games with a 5-2 win. Kopitar finished with a pair of assists, but the hero was defenseman Randy Jones
, who scored the game-winning goal in the third in his first game after being claimed off waivers from Philadelphia.
"I felt pretty comfortable out there, but the most important thing is getting the two points,'' Jones said. "We knew they were struggling and we knew they would be coming with all force, so I thought we played pretty solid, but the most important thing was getting the two points.''
It's been an up-and-down season for Atlanta so far, and the Thrashers seem to have it going again after coming from behind for a shootout win over St. Louis and picking up two points in New York. Kovalchuk and the unheralded Rich Peverley both enjoyed three-point nights, and Evander Kane continued to place his name among the top rookies from the 2009 class by scoring his fourth goal of the season in the 5-2 win.
"He's dangerous," Peverley said of Kovalchuk. "Whenever he gets the chance to score it's either a really good chance or it's in the net. It's great to have him back. Especially on the power play."
Who's hot --
Kopitar's a given, but the Kings have also received two goals and two assists from Dustin Brown
over his last four games and two goals and four assists from Justin Williams
in his five games since returning from injury.
Kovalchuk had two goals in his last full game before getting hurt, so he picked up right where he left off. Peverley leads the Thrashers with 20 points and has two goals and five assists in his last five games. Maxim Afinogenov has a goal and four assists over the same span.
Injury report --
Atlanta defenseman Boris Valabik, who hasn't played yet this season due to an ankle injury, started practicing with the team earlier this week. Otherwise, both teams enter this game with healthy rosters.
Stat pack --
Free agent center Nik Antropov has averaged nearly a point per game for the Thrashers, but has yet to score his first goal in an Atlanta uniform. He's collected 14 assists in 15 games. The next highest point total for a player without a goal is a tie between a pair of defensemen -- San Jose's Jason Demers and Anaheim's James Wisniewski each have 10 points, all on assists.
Puck drop --
Atlanta shoots for its third straight while dealing with the second night of a back-to-back situation. Los Angeles is playing the middle game of five straight on the road.