Caps Start the Back 41 Against Atlanta
Jan. 6 vs. Atlanta Thrashers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 pm
Radio: WTNT 570 AMAtlanta Thrashers (24-12-6)Washington Capitals (17-17-7)
Washington starts the second half of a four-game homestand and the second half of the 2006-07 regular season with a Saturday night contest against the Atlanta Thrashers at Verizon Center. The Caps will host their second annual Autism Awareness Night on Saturday. The special evening?s highlights will include a pregame on-ice ceremony honoring goaltender Olie Kolzig, intermission games featuring local special hockey teams and a silent auction to benefit Athletes Against Autism.
The Caps closed out the first half of the season with a convincing 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. Dainius Zubrus and Alexander Semin each had a pair of goals while goaltender Olie Kolzig made 27 saves, including some big saves at key moments of the game. With the win, Washington returned to the .500 level and ended a five-game losing skid.
Although Washington is 10 points ahead of last season?s mid-campaign pace, the Capitals remain three points behind eighth-place Toronto for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Capitals open the season?s second half in the midst of a spirited race for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference standings. A mere eight points separates 10 teams ranked from fifth to 14th in the East. With 41 points, the Capitals are in a three-way tie for 10th place. Washington has at least one game in hand with seven of the nine other teams with which it is bunched.
The last time the Caps and Thrashers met was on Dec. 15 in Atlanta. Washington ended a four-game losing streak against the Thrashers with a 3-2 overtime win in that one. Alex Ovechkin notched his second career hat trick in that contest, and he finished the feat with the game-winner just six seconds into the extra session. It?s the fastest overtime game-winner in Washington franchise history.
Washington has limited the opposition to fewer than 30 shots on goal three times in its last five games, and it has done so in two straight games for the first time since Mar. 10-12, 2006 a span of 58 games.
?We?re improving every game,? says blueliner Brian Pothier of the Washington defense. ?We?re all learning. If you look at our ages, we?re pretty young including myself. [Steve Eminger, Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Green] are all 24 and under. It?s just a matter of getting the experience and getting the games in, while we get fine-tuned by the coaches.?
The Capitals are 19th in the NHL in power play efficiency with a conversion rate of 16.7%. Washington has not gone consecutive games without a power play goal since Nov. 9-11, a span of 25 games.
Washington is 20th in the league with a penalty killing success rate of 80.8%. The Caps have killed 24 of 28 Atlanta power plays (85.7%) in the five previous meetings between the two teams this season.
Atlanta hits the District on the heels of a disappointing home ice loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday night. The Thrashers squandered a 4-1 third period lead, allowing the Coyotes to roar back with three goals to tie the game in the third. Atlanta missed a chance to get two points on a power play that spanned the final minute of regulation and the first minute of overtime, then surrendered the game-winner on Zbynek Michalek?s home run pass to Yanic Perreault.
Even with Friday night?s loss to Phoenix, Atlanta holds a comfortable nine-point lead over second place Carolina in the Southeast Division standings. Only Buffalo?s 10-point lead over second place Montreal in the Northeast is bigger among NHL division leaders.
Atlanta has lost three of its last four (1-2-1) but won five straight (tying a franchise record) immediately prior to that. Saturday?s game at Verizon Center is the sixth meeting this season between Atlanta and Washington. Four of the previous five meetings were immediately preceded by an Atlanta loss. The only exception was the Oct. 19 game, which was the second of back-to-back games against the Caps for Atlanta. The Thrashers won both of those.
The Thrashers have surrendered five goals in each of their last two games.
Saturday?s game starts a four-game road trip for the Thrashers. Atlanta has won three of its last five on the road and is 7-4-1 in its last dozen games away from Philips Arena.
Atlanta is 14th in the league with a 17.9% power play success rate. The Thrashers are 6-for-45 (13.3%) with the extra man in their last 10 games, a span that includes the team?s five-game winning streak.
The Thrashers are 26th in the league in penalty killing with a 79.5% kill rate. Atlanta has been nicked for at least one power play goal in each of its last five games and has killed 20 of 28 (71.4%) opposing power plays during that span.
Notes: Washington forwards Alex Ovechkin and Matt Pettinger did not practice with their teammates on Friday at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Hanlon stated that he expected both players to be in the lineup on Saturday ? Thrashers defenseman Garnet Exelby returned to the lineup on Friday after missing nearly two months of action because of a bout with mononucleosis. Exelby missed 22 games.