Thrashers coach John Anderson believes he got his players' attention with a difficult, unannounced practice two days ago.
"As a coaching staff, it helps us teach because they were doing the things that we were asking," Anderson said. "When you get a few bounces here and there, that's what creates confidence."
The practice apparently paid off as Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists and the Thrashers beat Ottawa 6-1 Tuesday night for their first regulation victory in 21 games.
The Thrashers, who had lost 11 of their previous 12, were coming off an embarrassing 8-1 home loss to Southeast Division rival Washington on Saturday.
Ottawa lost its fifth straight.
Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec made 30 saves and the Thrashers held Ottawa to 0-for-2 on the power play. The Senators' NHL-worst power-play percentage dipped to 14.0.
"It was special for me," Pavelec said. "It was a big game. We need the points."
Already without captain Daniel Alfredsson, who's recovering from a separated shoulder, the Senators played their second straight game without defenceman Filip Kuba (upper body) and third straight without Milan Michalek (upper body). Centres Jason Spezza (knee) and Jesse Winchester (knee) are out indefinitely.
"When you give a team a two-goal lead in the first period, it's tough to dig yourself out of it," said Senators centre Chris Kelly. "They kept rolling. We're in a slump, a tough spot right now."
The Thrashers scored the go-ahead goal on defenceman Pavel Kubina's slapshot 17:08 into the first, following Peter Regin's tying goal at the 7:29 mark of the first period.
Kovalchuk made it 3-1 with a wrist shot at 18:31 that gave him 17 points in his last 20 games.
Eric Boulton, whose tip-in made it 1-0 on the power play 3:36 into the first, credits Anderson with cancelling the players' off day Sunday and scheduling a rigorous workout.
For the first time since Nov. 30, when the Thrashers beat Florida 4-3 for their most recent regulation victory, Boulton thought the team played intensely for 60 minutes.
"We were pressing," Boulton said. "We got a couple of quick goals early but we kept pressing and got the win."
Todd White scored his first goal in 35 games to give the Thrashers a 4-1 lead early in the second.
Tobias Enstrom put the Thrashers up 5-1 with a wrist shot from the left circle 9:43 into the second. Kovalchuk, after controlling his own rebound, passed from behind the net for Enstrom's fourth goal.
"We had two or three scoring chances from point blank on breakaways," Ottawa coach Cory Clouston said. "Obviously, we've got to score those opportunities, and when they get their chances, we've got to make the save."
Bryan Little made it 6-1 early in the third, scoring on a breakaway for his sixth goal.
Thrashers defenceman Chris Thorburn said his team set the tone in practice.
"We worked hard in practice on battling hard and trying to get some crease goals," Thorburn said. "It paid off for us tonight."