While the Capitals pulled away from the Thrashers with a three-goal second period Thursday night, Atlanta stormed back late thanks to its special teams, but Washington was able to hang on for a 5-4 win in its first divisional game of the season.
While Alexander Ovechkin was held pointless for just the second time this year, fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk scored a pair of goals to pull even in the goal-scoring race with nine on the campaign. However, Jeff Schultz notched the first three-point night of his career - including a fluky goal that opened the floodgates in the middle frame - and three other Caps notched their first goal of the season in the victory.
Alexandre Giroux also scored a goal filling in for Alexander Semin, who didn't make the trip due to an undisclosed illness, while Eric Fehr, Chris Clark and Matt Bradley all scored for Washington.
The Capitals jumped out in front quickly, as Fehr took a long feed from Jeff Schultz and broke in alone and beat Ondrej Pavelec just 2:02 into the contest. However, Atlanta took advantage of a Shaone Morrisonn penalty just 2:04 later, as Maxim Afinogenov scored a goal off the faceoff win from Nik Antropov as the former Sabre broke in in to tie the game at the 4:09 mark of the period and put a backhander past Semyon Varlamov.
However, Giroux, playing in his first game of the season after being recalled from Hershey this morning, put Washington back in front at the eight-minute mark by blasting home a feed from another player recalled from Hershey, Keith Aucoin. Mike Knuble appeared to give the Caps a 3-1 lead on the next shift, but he was ruled to have kicked in a puck past Pavelec and the score remained 2-1.
Kovalchuk struck for his eighth of the season with just 2:58 left in the frame to bring the Thrashers even into the first intermission.
The game turned in Washington's favor with a strange goal just over the halfway mark of the second, as Schultz, circling behind his net, let go a clearing attempt from the face-off circle in the Washington end. The long clear appeared to change direction and eluded Pavelec to put the Caps back in front at the 10:20 mark.
With the fluke tally, Pavelec stumbled a bit, and Bradley put the lead at 4-2 just 1:14 after Schultz's goal with a wrist shot high for his third goal of the season. Just :14 after that, Clark scored his first of the campaign to put Washington in control 5-2 by depositing a wide Mike Green drive past the Atlanta netminder before he could protect the post.
All seemed to be going well for Washington, beating Pavelec five times on 14 shots, and reeling for the most goals it had allowed all season, Atlanta brought in Johan Hedberg in relief in the third period to limit the damage. However, Washington couldn't take advantage of several power-play opportunities in the third period, and it almost caused them to lose their three-goal edge.
While Marty Reasoner was in the box for an interference call early in the third, Zach Bogosian scored shorthanded for the Thrashers with 4:51 gone in the frame, beating Varlamov with a long low shot from the circle. The Thrashers gave Washington two more power-plays - including a 5-on-3 - to put the game away, but the Capitals couldn't light the lamp, and then some late penalties by the Caps led to Kovalchuk's second goal of the night with a blast from the point just as Knuble was skating back on the ice following a 6-on-3 situation with :49 left in the period.
Ovechkin took a penalty with :30 left to give the Thrashers a two-man advantage with Hedberg on the Atlanta bench, but fortunately for Washington, Varlamov held the late barrage for the 5-4 win.
Varlamov ended the night stopping 22 of 26 Atlanta shots, and earned his second straight win in as many starts and moved to 4-0-0 on the campaign.
Washington moves to 5-2-2 on the season, and 2-1-1 away from Verizon Center, and moves three points in front of Atlanta in the Southeastern race. The Capitals now head to Long Island to take on the Islanders Saturday night to wrap up the brief road trip before returning home Tuesday night against Philadelphia.