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After benefiting from opposing a fellow last-place club their last time out, the Ottawa Senators can again take advantage of another struggling Eastern Conference opponent on Tuesday night as they host the Atlanta Thrashers.
Ottawa (11-12-5) hasn't finished lower than fourth in the Northeast Division since it was fifth following the 1997-98 season, ending up either first or second each of the past three years. The team, however, currently finds itself in last place, having collected just 27 points - among the fewest in the league - in the first 28 games.
The Senators won four of five contests from Nov. 22-Dec. 6, then went on to lose three straight (0-2-1) before Martin Gerber made 24 saves in a 2-0 home victory over Tampa Bay on Saturday.
"Everybody was happy to get the win, that's for sure," Gerber, who posted his second win of 2008-09, told the Senators' official Web site. "It's even sweeter when you get a shutout out of it but the main thing was to get a win."
Defense hasn't been a problem this season for Ottawa, which has conceded 70 goals - the second fewest in the East. Alex Auld and Martin Gerber have compiled a collective 2.35 goals-against average in 2008-09.
To keep things going, Ottawa can't avoid a letdown against reeling Atlanta (9-16-4), which is tied with Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders for the league's lowest point total. The Senators have won seven of their last 11 matchups (7-3-1) against the Thrashers and are 11-2-3 with a tie at home in the all-time series.
Although Ottawa's offense was sharp in a 5-1 home victory over Atlanta on Dec. 3, the unit has been stagnant most of the season, managing a league-low 66 goals after finishing second in the NHL with 261 in 2007-08.
The Senators' top line of captain Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza is among the league's best, but even they have been quiet lately, combining for only four points (three goals, one assist) over the last four games.
"(Both goaltenders) are coming up with the big saves," said forward Shean Donovan. "That's what you need and that's what you ask for with your goaltending. Now it's up to the rest of us to start putting the puck in the net."
Ottawa, though, can re-energize its offense against an Atlanta team that has yielded 107 goals. Only the Islanders have allowed more (110).
The Thrashers have been particularly porous lately, allowing 50 goals over their last 13 contests (2-9-2). That miserable stretch was capped by Saturday's 4-2 loss at East-leading Boston, which was quickly followed by a team meeting.
"We're not happy with what's going on," forward Jason Williams said. "We're at rock bottom right now. We're trying to find out why things didn't work."
Atlanta will try to find answers against Ottawa, which expects to have Gerber in net for the third straight outing. He's started just three of the Senators' last 15 games, losing twice in that span despite stopping 80 of 83 shots and boasting a .964 save percentage.
Gerber is 4-3-0 with a 3.12 GAA in his last eight games against the Thrashers.
Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk has recorded 16 (five goals, 11 assists) of his team-leading 30 points over his last 13 games. He has 19 goals and nine assists in 24 career contests versus the Senators.