The Detroit Red Wings have proven to be the NHL's best team over the first half of the season, but they've lost consecutive games. Atlanta Thrashers left wing Ilya Kovalchuk has proven to be the league's best goal scorer, and he's shown no sign of slowing down.
The Red Wings try to win for the first time in three games on Tuesday when they host Kovalchuk's Thrashers, who have never won at Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings (33-9-4) are 0-1-1 in their past two games following a six-week stretch when they went 18-2-1 and separated themselves from the rest of the NHL. But they lost 6-5 to Minnesota in a shootout on Thursday and then fell behind by two goals in a 3-2 defeat at Ottawa on Saturday in a matchup of the league's two best teams.
"We certainly didn't play our best game (against the Senators), especially in the first 40 minutes," said Red Wings goalie Dominik Hasek. "I think it was a little bit disappointing for everyone in the locker room."
Kovalchuk, meanwhile, is as hot as ever. The Thrashers' left wing is riding a nine-game point streak during which he's totaled eight goals and seven assists. He leads the league with 37 goals, and is on pace to score 66, which would be the most in the NHL since Mario Lemieux had 69 for Pittsburgh in 1995-96.
The 24-year-old has a goal and three assists in three games against the Red Wings.
Atlanta (22-22-2) is 0-2-2 at Joe Louis Arena since entering the league, and gained the franchise's only victory against Detroit in their most recent meeting -- a 7-6 win on Dec. 13, 2005.
While they don't have an individual scorer of Kovalchuk's caliber, the Red Wings haven't had any problems scoring goals. They lead the league with 159 goals, and have five players with at least 14 goals, led by Henrik Zetterberg's 27.
Zetterberg has 11 goals and 13 assists in his last 16 games. He has two goals and four assists in three career games against the Thrashers.
In addition to leading the league in goals, the Red Wings have also allowed the fewest in the league thanks to an outstanding defense led by Nicklas Lidstrom and a pair of world-class goaltenders.
Hasek, who lost to Ottawa, is 14-7-2 with a 2.15 goals-against average, but he isn't even the best netminder on his team. All-Star Chris Osgood, who is likely to play against Atlanta, is 19-2-2 with a league-best 1.82 GAA. The two have alternated starts in the last 12 games.
Though they've lost as many games as they've won, the Thrashers are just two points behind division-leading Carolina in the Southeast.
They're also coming off one of their best wins of the season, a 3-2 shootout victory over Pittsburgh that ended the Penguins' eight-game win streak.
Mark Recchi, released by Pittsburgh in December, had the only goal in the shootout.
"It's nice. I'm not going to lie to you," he said. "We needed the point more than they do right now. Obviously, it feels good."
Recchi has given a nice boost to the Thrashers' offense since being signed by the Thrashers, compiling seven goals and nine assists in 17 games.
Goaltender Kari Lehtonen and Johan Hedberg had been alternating appearances between the pipes, but with Hedberg struggling, Lehtonen has played well in starting the last two games.
Lehtonen, who has saved 67 of the 71 shots he's faced in the two games, has never faced Detroit.