Wednesday, October 28, 2009

If It's Thursday, It Must Be Atlanta

Thanks to a scheduling quirk, for the second straight Thursday, the Capitals will take the ice at Philips Arena, although this matchup is a bit different than the one just a week ago.

The Caps entered last week's matchup just a point ahead of Atlanta in the Southeast standings, now, thanks to three straight Washington wins over the past week - and two Atlanta losses - that figure is now seven.

Unfortunately for the Thrashers, those losses in the standings won't have the lasting impact of Ilya Kovalchuk's injury in a loss to the Sharks, meaning a team that had performed well with their Russian sniper will have to make up for his production without him.

Kovalchuk has scored nine of Atlanta's 28 goals this year, accounting for nearly a third of their offensive production. By comparison, Alexander Ovechkin has contributed 11 of Washington's 41 tallies, for 27 percent.

So it's not going to be easy for the Thrashers to match that production, with just two players on their roster that have more than two goals this season (Rich Peverly and Evander Kane). Likely, the Thrashers will have to play a much more defensive style than they're used to, as if they play run-and-gun with the Capitals as they did last Thursday, they aren't going to outscore Washington that way.

Trouble is for Atlanta is that their defense and goaltending will be put under a lot of strain playing that way. Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg have both been pulled in each of their last starts, so they will need a better performance in net to try and keep their surprising start going.

As for the Capitals, they aren't having the goaltending issues right now, as Jose Theodore was the No. 1 star in a 4-2 win over Philadelphia and has contributed some spectacular saves in his last two starts. Theodore now has a 2.47 goals-against and a .922 save percentage, and is playing some of the best hockey he has ever played wearing a Washington sweater.

As for the forwards, Bruce Boudreau reunited the top line with Alexander Semin's return, and the trio combined for nine points and accounted for all four Capitals goals. The power-play, which had struggled for a couple of games, finally got on the board thanks to Nicklas Backstrom's second-period strike, and now hope to improve on a lackluster performance last Thursday where they yielded a short-handed tally that helped the Thrashers make a game of it in the third period.

The Capitals will get a compressed schedule this weekend, with three games in four days, as Washington plays home games on Friday night (Islanders) and Sunday afternooon (Blue Jackets).

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