The Canes are back in Atlanta tonight to take on division rival and the division leading Thrashers. The Canes are 2-0 so far against this regional foe but remain 7 points back in the standings as the Thrashers have accumulated 19 points compared to the Cane's 12. Eric Staal and Rod Brind'Amour lead Carolina in scoring with 14 points each while Justin Williams and Ray Whitney are close behind with 12. Scott Walker has 11. I imagine Cam Ward will put his 5-4-1 record on the line in net, but I haven't seen anything official about that yet. Kaberle and Stillman remain on the IR while Auccoin was taken off and returned to Albany. Tanabe and Letowski remain doubtful for tonight. Luke DeCock of the News and Observer wrote a piece about Staal which was in this morning's issue.
Atlanta comes home from a 5 game road trip in which they finished a respectable 2-1-2 that included an overtime win over the previously undefeated Buffalo Sabres. The win prevented Buffalo from setting an NHL record for consecutive opening season wins and this blogger couldn't have been happier. Nice to see a fellow Southeastern team do some damage! I guess I missed it, but at some point Atlanta starting calling themselves "Blueland". Their motto this year: "Believe in Blueland!". That seems too close to the St. Louis moniker to me, but whatever works for them. Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk continue to lead the scoring for the Trash with 17 points each. These two skaters are as dangerous as any pair in the league and must be closely shadowed the entire game. Goalie Kari Lehtonen will be in net again and has started all but one game for coach Bob Hartley. The one game he did not start, he came off the bench to play net during the game deciding shootout, (in a controversial move) and lost, so he has made an appearance in every Atlanta game this year. While his overall record is great, he is winless against the Canes this year and has a lifetime 1-4-1 record against us.
Look for the Thrashers to come out slowly as they try to find their legs on this first home game after returning from their road trip. The Canes should have some jump as they had an extra day off this week. Staal and Kovalchuk seem to have a dislike for each other and both pick up their games a notch against each other so look for that extra intensity. Lehtonen will certainly try to break his bad streak against the Canes. The Thrashers always come out like gangbusters in the 3rd and the Canes will have to be aware of that. Hopefully the Canes can build a lead and hold onto it again like the previous games this year, but this one should be a real barnburner. Go Canes!