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Dirty Birds taking flight

Ilya Kovalchuk, Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov have help put Atlanta in the playoff picture in the East. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Ilya Kovalchuk, Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov have help put Atlanta in the playoff picture in the East. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s hard not to view the Atlanta Thrashers with a bit of hairy eyeball.

A team that’s made the playoffs just once since entering the league in 1999-00 presently sits sixth in the Eastern Conference. Are we really supposed to believe Maxim Afinogenov and Rich Peverley are point-per-game players?

While a certain amount of suspicion is justified based purely on precedent, we’re here to tell you the Thrashers are for real.

It starts with goaltending, something Atlanta has received in spades from Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg. Up front, a major bounce-back year from Afinogenov and the stunning continued success of Peverley, a waiver-wire pickup nearly one year ago, have helped give the Thrashers the kind of offensive depth they’d previously only dreamed of.

On the back end, slick Swede Tobias Enstrom is tied for sixth in league scoring among defensemen, while big Pavel Kubina is plus-16 and providing a great example for the team’s future stud blueliner, sophomore Zach Bogosian.

This turnaround under coach John Anderson started halfway though last season and now the Thrashers are on track to reach a new threshold for success.

THE HOCKEY NEWS POWER RANKINGS
RK.
TEAM
LW
OVERALL
L10
THE SCOOP
1
Washington Capitals
4
18-5-6
6-2-2
Scored 14 goals in the two games Alex Ovechkin sat out for his suspension
2
San Jose Sharks
1
19-7-5
5-3-2
Devin Setoguchi has been slowed by a leg injury, but the Sharks would love to get him going
3
New Jersey Devils
2
19-7-1
6-3-1
Happy to get Johnny Oduya back on the blueline
4
Chicago Blackhawks
6
18-7-3
7-2-1
With Kane, Toews and Keith all locked up, the real – and fun – question becomes, who gets moved to make cap room?
5
Pittsburgh Penguins
3
20-9-1
7-2-1
Evgeni Malkin has 55 points in 37 games without Sidney Crosby over the past three seasons
6
Calgary Flames
5
18-7-3
6-3-1
Flames are 11-2-3 on the road this season
7
Boston Bruins
8
15-9-5
7-2-1
With Milan Lucic out, banger Byron Bitz gets a chance to show his upside on the first line
8
Buffalo Sabres
10
16-8-2
5-4-1
A busy December stretch means Patrick Lalime gets another shot to prove he's a worthy backup to Ryan Miller
9
Los Angeles Kings
9
17-10-3
6-3-1
Anze Kopitar hasn't scored in 12 games; Dustin Brown hasn't found the net in 13
10
Nashville Predators
7
16-11-2
6-3-1
Jason Arnott (11 points in his past 10 games) and Martin Erat (nine in his past nine) both producing for the Preds
11
Atlanta Thrashers
11
15-8-3
6-2-2
Coach John Anderson says rookie Evander Kane can expect more ice time thanks to his strong play
12
Phoenix Coyotes
15
17-11-1
6-3-1
Incredible this team is doing so well when its leading scorer, Shane Doan, is on pace for 50 points
13
Vancouver Canucks
18
16-13-0
6-4-0
Can kick start their season by dominating an eight-game homestand that begins Thursday
14
Dallas Stars
14
13-8-8
5-3-2
Brenden Morrow getting it going with goals in five of his past six games
15
Colorado Avalanche
19
16-9-6
3-4-3
Rookie Ryan O'Reilly has hit the wall offensively, but fellow freshman Matt Duchene is just starting to heat up
16
St. Louis Blues
22
12-10-5
6-3-1
Earned at least a point in five of their past six games
17
Detroit Red Wings
17
14-10-15
4-4-2
Jimmy Howard finally showing he's up to stopping NHL-caliber shots
18
Ottawa Senators
16
14-10-4
5-4-1
Is Alex Kovalev coming alive? He has points in each of his past three games
19
New York Rangers
20
14-14-1
4-6-0
Chris Higgins has done precious little to endear himself to his new team
20
Minnesota Wild
26
13-12-3
6-2-2
Offense comes alive as Minnesota suddenly reels off five straight wins
21
Tampa Bay Lightning
12
11-9-8
3-5-2
Vincent Lecavalier received 16:09 of ice time against the Isles on Saturday - his second-lowest total of the season
22
New York Islanders
27
11-11-7
4-5-1
On target for a mid-to-late December return, Rick DiPietro made a start with the American League's Bridgeport Sound Tigers
23
Philadelphia Flyers
13
13-12-1
3-7-0
We'll give new coach Peter Laviolette a mulligan on his debut, an 8-2 loss to the Caps
24
Toronto Maple Leafs
25
8-13-7
5-3-2
Take away a terrible October and this team is a respectable 7-6-3
25
Montreal Canadiens
24
13-14-2
4-4-2
Friday night's 100th anniversary ceremony proved pageantry is now the only thing Montreal does way better than everybody else
26
Florida Panthers
28
11-13-5
3-4-3
Stephen Weiss goes off for six goals in his past four games
27
Columbus Blue Jackets
23
13-11-5
2-5-3
Just when you thought this franchise had turned the corner…
28
Edmonton Oilers
29
12-13-4
4-4-2
Battered and bruised, the Oilers currently have seven regulars spending significant time on the IR
29
Anaheim Ducks
21
10-13-6
4-3-3
I know credible hockey observers who thought this team could win the Cup this year
30
Carolina Hurricanes
30
6-17-5
4-5-1
No better scenario for this team now than drafting high and adding another high-impact player to a core that includes 25-year-old Eric Staal and Cam Ward and a bunch of quality forward prospects

The Hockey News ranks the teams 1-30 each Monday based on a combination of last week’s play and a squad’s overall outlook.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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