Hot-lanta Thrashers

I don't think too many people saw this coming. Hockey? Atlanta? Success?

So far, yes. And the Thrashers are doing it without their best player.

Look at today's NHL standings and you'll find the Atlanta Thrashers sitting atop the Southeast Divison. The same division with Alexander "The Great" Ovechkin in Washington. The same division where the last two Stanley Cup winners -- Carolina and Tampa Bay -- have come from.

Is it something in the water down South?

"We never quit. That's what is big about this team," said Marian Hossa, who had a pair of goals and an assist in regulation of a 4-3 win over the Capitals on Thursday night. "We showed a lot of character and got a big two points."

Hossa was acquired from Ottawa just before the start of last season for Dany Heatley. After scoring 39 goals and 92 points in his first season with the Thrashers, the 27-year-old right wing (and already a nine-year veteran) already has seven goals -- five on the power play -- and 11 points.

A healthy Kari Lehtonen in net also hasn't hurt. The second overall pick in 2002 was limited by injuries to only 38 games last season. So far in 2006-07, he's 5-1 with a 1.81 goals-against average and is tied with San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov for the league lead with two shutouts.

How bad was Atlanta without Lehtonen last season? Rookie Michael Garnett, veteran retreads Mike Dunham -- now a backup with the New York Islanders -- and Steve Shields, and the less-than-stellar Adam Berkhoel combined to go 22-17-7 with a 3.39 GAA. Not horrible, but still not good enough secure its first playoff berth.

So what's the toughest part about being successful? For Lehtonen, it's reminders of the past.

"Everybody keeps asking me about last year and it's hard," he told CBSSportsline.com this week. "I think we had a horrible season last year and we still almost made the playoffs, so that's why I'm really looking forward to this year."

So far, Atlanta has picked up 11 of a possible 14 points as it has gotten off to the best start in franchise history. Just wait until Ilya Kovalchuk remembers what it's like to find the back of the net again.

Kovalchuk is off to the slowest start of his career, with just one goal in seven games. Last season, he tallied a career-high 52 with a league-leading 27 coming on the power play.

Though the top overall pick in 2001 has led all NHL players with 132 goals since the start of the 2002-03 season -- Hossa is second in that span and needs only six goals to pass him -- Kovalchuk didn't have an answer for his slow start.

"I want to score every game, but I don't know what's going on. It's bad luck," he said after a 4-3 loss to Carolina on Oct. 13 -- the only defeat in regulation the Thrashers have had so far.

The season before the lockout, the Stanley Cup resided on the Gulf Coast. Last year, it moved to Tobacco Road. Why not in Buckhead this season?

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