After surging into the Olympic break with the Northeast Division lead, a rough stretch has dropped the Ottawa Senators out of the top spot.
The Senators look to avoid a fourth straight loss Thursday night when they face an Atlanta Thrashers team that routed them in the last matchup at Philips Arena.
Ottawa (37-28-5) won 14 of 16 to grab a one-point division lead over Buffalo heading into the Olympic hiatus, but has gone 1-5-1 since to fall three points behind the first-place Sabres.
The Senators' biggest problem has been offense, as they scored one or no goals in each of their last six losses. Ottawa has not been much better defensively, giving up at least four goals in four of those defeats.
Sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of Montreal and two in front of Philadelphia, the Senators are trying to figure out how to get back on track as they open a three-game road trip.
"I think we are struggling with handling the puck and making good passes and managing the puck," said captain Daniel Alfredsson, who has a team-leading 55 points but no goals in his last eight games. "It seems like when we get it we want to get rid of it right away instead of sometimes settling down and controlling the play. We're stretching at times and putting ourselves in difficult spots."
Facing the second-worst defensive team in the conference could help. Only last-place Toronto has allowed more goals than Atlanta's 224 among East clubs, and the Thrashers aren't playing any better than the Senators, going 1-5-1 in their last seven and giving up 25 goals.
Ottawa, though, did not fare well in its last visit to Philips Arena, losing 6-1 on Jan. 12 in the teams' most recent matchup. That capped an 0-5-0 stretch -- the Senators' last slide of at least four games.
The Senators were victimized for the second straight time by Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 30 shots in that meeting after making a career-high 50 saves in a 3-1 victory at Ottawa on Oct. 31.
Pascal Leclaire allowed three first-period goals Jan. 12 before being replaced by Brian Elliott. Leclaire went 0-5-1 with a 4.64 goals-against average in his last seven starts.
Elliott, who made 26 saves in a 4-2 victory over the Thrashers on Oct. 10, is 1-3-0 with a 2.79 GAA in four starts since the break.
Atlanta (29-29-11) managed to stop its six-game skid Tuesday with a 4-3 victory over the Sabres, who have lost three straight. Nik Antropov, Bryan Little and Maxim Afinogenov scored in the opening 5:40 to chase Ryan Miller, but the Senators needed a goal from Jim Slater with 6:44 left to snap a four-game home losing streak.
"We felt comfortable we were generating enough chances to win the game," coach John Anderson said. "But nothing has come easy for us this year, so it doesn't surprise us."
Afinogenov and Antropov both had a goal and an assist in each of the last two games. Andropov had three assists in the two October matchups but missed the Jan. 12 game with a lower-body injury.
Defenseman Niclas Bergfors recorded a career-high three assists Tuesday and has six goals and five assists in 14 games since being acquired from New Jersey last month.