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The Atlanta Thrashers have emerged as one of the top teams in the league this season. If Ilya Kovalchuk continues his strong play, there's a good chance they'll stay near the top.
The Thrashers try for their second four-game winning streak of 2006-07 on Wednesday when they host the slumping Ottawa Senators, who are trying to avoid their longest losing streak in 10 years.
Kovalchuk recorded his second hat trick of the season Monday and added an assist, leading the Thrashers to a 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins. The 23-year-old left wing, who tied for third in the NHL with 52 goals last season, boosted his total to 12 this year, along with 11 assists.
"Kovy is shooting bullets once again," said Thrashers coach Bob Hartley, whose team is playing the middle contest of a three-game homestand. "When he's going like this, he's one of the top scorers in the game."
Kovalchuk has achieved similar success against the Senators (5-7-1), recording five goals and five assists in his last five games against them. He has a total of 10 goals and eight assists in 14 career games versus Ottawa.
All three of Kovalchuk's goals Monday came on the power play as Atlanta (11-3-3) converted 4 of 11 chances, improving its efficiency to 19.8 percent (20-for-101) on the season.
"We have a lot of skills guys on the power play, and I think sometimes we try (to pass) too much," Kovalchuk said. "We just have to take the puck to the net and look for the rebound."
Slava Kozlov had a goal and three assists for Atlanta while Marian Hossa, who spent his first seven seasons with Ottawa, added a goal and two assists. Hossa leads the NHL in goals (13) and points (24).
The strong offense has helped the Southeast Division-leading Thrashers move into a tie with Buffalo for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with 25 points.
The Senators, who won the Northeast Division a season ago, are now one of the worst teams in the conference with a dismal 11 points.
Ottawa is trying to avoid its first five-game losing streak since a seven-game skid from Feb. 22-March 9, 1996. The Senators appeared on the verge of ending their slide in the opener of a four-game road trip Monday against the Washington Capitals, when they took a three-goal lead midway through the first period.
They couldn't hold on, however, losing 4-3 to the Capitals when Chris Clark scored 1:33 into overtime.
"The guys were working so hard to protect the lead that we forgot about attacking," said Senators coach Bryan Murray, whose team is playing the second contest of a four-game road trip. "You can't hold on all night."
Ottawa is 0-for-16 on the power play in the last three games, and has capitalized on only 6 of 73 chances this season.
Daniel Alfredsson had a goal and an assist Monday while Dany Heatley, who spent his first three seasons with the Thrashers, scored his team-leading eighth goal.
Martin Gerber, who is 2-5-1 with a 3.02 goals against-average, is expected to be in goal for the Senators after Ray Emery suffered an upper body injury during practice Tuesday. Ottawa recalled Kelly Guard from Binghamton of the AHL in case Emery can't dress as a backup.
Thrashers top goaltender Kari Lehtonen is 8-3-3 with a 2.72 GAA this season, but hasn't played since allowing four goals on 13 shots in a loss to Carolina last Wednesday.
Johan Hedberg has won three straight starts in Lehtonen's place and has a 2.01 GAA on the season.
The teams split four meetings last year, but the Senators have won four of their last five trips to Atlanta.