Caps Look to Gain on Thrashers in Southeast
Dec. 15 vs. Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena
Time: 7:30 pm
TV: NewsChannel 8
Radio: WTNT 570 AMWashington Capitals (13-10-7)Atlanta Thrashers (18-9-5)
Washington heads south on Friday for a Southeast Division match with the Atlanta Thrashers. The Caps have yet to beat the Thrashers this season, and Friday would be a perfect time to reverse that trend. Washington trails front-running Atlanta by eight points in the standings and has two games in hand.
The Caps are 5-1-1, but are coming off a painful 5-4 shootout loss to Pittsburgh at Verzion Center on Monday. In a game that was aired on national television, the Capitals roared out to a 4-0 early second period lead, only to watch it vanish in less than 20 minutes. Pittsburgh then took the two points by winning the shootout. The Caps have dropped four of the last five to their former Patrick Division rivals.
It was the first time in 15 years and just the third time in franchise history that the Caps had a four-goal lead in a game they failed to win. As difficult is that loss was to swallow, the Caps know they need to look ahead rather than behind.
?We put it behind us by the time we left the rink [on Monday], I hope,? says Caps coach Glen Hanlon. ?We [won] five of six, and then there was one game where we lost our focus. You start at 7:00 and you play to 9:30.?
The Caps did salvage a point in the loss to Pittsburgh, and they?ll move on without attaching any extraordinary significance to that ? or any other ? game.
?There are too many games to play to make one more [important] than the others,? declares Hanlon. ?If you put more stock in one than another ? I?ve chosen not to do that. We spoke to them after the game about what went wrong and we?re trying to get our act together for this game coming up.?
That would be Friday?s tilt with the Thrashers, the fifth meeting between the two Southeast Division occupants this season. Atlanta has won each of the first four; the Caps picked up single points in the first two by virtue of being tied at the end of regulation.
Much ado was made a few weeks back when the Capitals and Thrashers combined for 176 minutes worth of penalties in a game that turned feisty in the final minutes. Fines and suspensions were levied. Some even started uttering the ?R? word: rivalry.
?The game was played,? states Hanlon. ?There was a reaction on our part. We responded, they responded. For us, it?s put to bed. I just want to get in there and win a hockey game.?
That PIM figure from the Caps-Thrashers tilt was tame; it fell a minute short of the Caps? record for PIM in a game, which was 177 set on Dec. 21, 1980 in a 6-0 win over Philadelphia. That was just Washington?s PIM total in that 1980 game. The Caps and Flyers combined for a Washington franchise record 344 PIM in that long ago Patrick Division match-up.
The fans say Washington?s biggest rivals are still its old Patrick Division foes. Teams such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Rangers routinely outdraw games featuring Washington?s ?new? division opponents from the Southeast at the Verizon Center.
To Hanlon and the Caps, Friday?s game is just another game on the schedule.
?For us, we?re trying to get to 94 points,? he says. ?That?s our goal. If it?s two points [Friday] night against Atlanta, great. Wherever they come, at home or on the road, we?ll just take our segments and get our three wins and move on. We?re striving obviously for more than three [wins], but that?s our minimalist goal that we realize we need.
?From the coach on out, we?re an emotional group. I don?t think it?s good to put any more emphasis on [individual] games. We?re fired up enough for most games [that we don?t need to] say that this is a bigger game than Anaheim.?
The Capitals? power play unit ranks 18th in the NHL with a 16.4% success rate. Washington is 16th in the league in penalty killing with a kill rate of 82.8%.
Atlanta toted a four-game losing skid ? its longest of the season ? with it when it came into Verizon Center for that aforementioned game on Nov. 22. The Caps jumped out to a 2-0 second period lead, but the Thrashers scored four unanswered tallies to take a 4-2 decision over Washington.
Including that night, the Thrashers are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. But Atlanta is winless in its last three games (0-2-1), and this is the fourth time in the five meetings this season that the Thrashers will face the Capitals coming off a loss in their previous game or games.
Most recently, the Thrashers took a 2-1 home ice setback at the hands of the red-hot Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night. Kari Lehtonen was in goal for Atlanta that night; he has earned eight of the Thrashers? last nine decisions. Johan Hedberg started and won each of Atlanta?s two games against Washington in November.
Atlanta has just nine regulation losses this season, one fewer than Washington. The Thrashers have eight more victories than the Capitals, and their dominance in the season?s series to date has made the difference between the two clubs in the Southeast Division standings.
Atlanta?s power play ranks ninth in the NHL with a success rate of 18.2%. The Thrashers rank 24th on the league?s penalty killing ledger, having killed off 80.7% of the opposition?s power play chances.