Maybe it’s time the NHL contracted the entire Southeast Division. Would anyone really miss it? Yes, the Southeast has the Washington Capitals, but they’ve lost seven games in a row. The other four teams are in Dixie; all four are having attendance problems, and they’re not playing very good hockey, either – except for one forgotten team in the Dirty South.

Hail Atlanta

If you’re playing the puck lines, the Atlanta Thrashers (19-13 ATS, 2.97 units) are the only profitable team in the Southeast, thanks to a healthy 10-2-1 record over the past month. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (.942 save percentage) has been standing on his head lately, earning a pair of shutouts during this streak and sending the UNDER to a 9-4 record. It’s not as if the Thrashers can’t find the net, either. They’re fifth in the league in scoring at 3.16 goals per game.

You can neatly summarize the Thrashers’ streak by looking at the two games they played against the Captials – both victories:

  • November 19: Washington 0, Atlanta 5 (ATL +148, UNDER 6.5)
  • December 4: Atlanta 3, Washington 1 (ATL +177, UNDER 6)

Pavelec played both games and stopped 74 of 75 shots, killing all eight of Washington’s power-play chances in the process. His job this year has been made easier with the additions of defensemen Dustin Byfuglien (plus-5) and Brent Sopel (plus-7), who came along with LW Ben Eager from the Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks in an offseason trade. LW Andrew Ladd was also let go by the Blackhawks; he’s now Atlanta’s captain and second leading scorer (10 goals, 10 assists) behind Byfuglien (11 goals, 21 assists). We should all get hand-me-downs that good.

On Thursday night the Thrashers take on Carolina Hurricanes.

Citizen Kane

It’s a cold reality, but the 2007 death of former owner Bill Wirtz led directly to the Blackhawks (16-14-3) opening up the purse strings and signing enough talented players to win the Stanley Cup. Everyone knew they’d have to dump salary this year to fit under the cap, but Chicago supporters still have homegrown heroes Jonathan Toews (No. 3 pick in 2006) and Patrick Kane (No. 1 pick in 2007) joining veteran Marian Hossa in a potent lineup.

That was the plan, anyway. Hossa has been out of commission since November 29 with an undisclosed lower-body injury, and Kane took an awkward tumble in last week’s game against the Calgary Flames, damaging his left ankle. Kane has missed each of the last three games since then, all losses for Chicago at the cost of 3.58 units against the moneyline. Both players could return this Friday as the Detroit Red Wings (first in the Western Conference at 20-7-3) pay a visit to the United Center. The NHL Network has that game starting at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

Cash and Kari

Atlanta and Chicago were also complicit in the league-wide goaltender shuffle of 2010. The Thrashers gave up on Kari Lehtonen, trading him to the Dallas Stars after four years of steady results – steady except for his injury-related absences, that is. Then the Stars let Marty Turco take his talents to the Windy City, handing the starting job to Lehtonen. Good call: Lehtonen (.915 SV%) is stopping pucks at his usual pace, and Dallas is in first place in the Pacific Division at 18-10-2.

Then again, maybe we should contract the Pacific, as well. The Stars have a goal differential of plus-4, one goal worse than the Capitals. The San Jose Sharks (15-11-5) are even worse at plus-2. This is a sad state of affairs for the Sharks. They opened at 8-1 on the Stanley Cup betting odds and are still coated in chalk at 12-1. Dallas hasn’t budged since opening at 60-1. We’ll get a better sense of their relative worth when the two teams face each other Thursday night at American Airlines Center. Lehtonen is expected to play after missing four games with a sore back; Dallas is a –130 favorite with a total of 5.5 goals.