The Atlanta Thrashers hope a visit to the nation's capital will snap them out of a recent funk as they play their Southeast Division rivals, the Washington Capitals, at the Verizon Center on Saturday.
While the Thrashers (24-12-6) have a nine-point lead in the Southeast, they are 1-2-1 in their last four games following a 5-4 overtime home loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday. Marian Hossa ended a seven-game goal-scoring drought with two tallies, but the Thrashers let a point slip away by blowing a three-goal, third-period lead before falling in overtime.
"I don't know what happened," said Hossa, who has a team-high 25 goals. "They got a lucky goal and then after that they kept coming. They finished. We lost a point."
While Hossa was at a loss for explanation, Thrashers coach Bob Hartley sensed the momentum turn in the second period - when the Coyotes outshot the Thrashers 13-3 and had four power-play opportunities.
"It all started in the second period," Hartley said. "We took some bad penalties. We took some stupid penalties, bad is not even the word for it."
Ilya Kovalchuk also had a goal for Atlanta but has just two in his last six games. His linemate, Slava Kozlov, left Friday's loss early in the first period after being hit it in the face and is questionable for this game.
Atlanta, though, did have center Steve Rucchin and defenseman Grant Exelby back in the lineup. Rucchin missed the previous 10 games with a hip injury, while Exelby had not played since Nov. 11 due to mononucleosis.
But playing the Capitals (17-17-7) has proven to be an elixir for the Thrashers since the lockout ended. Atlanta is 9-1-3 against Washington since the 2005-06 season, including a 4-0-1 mark this season as Hossa has totaled three goals and two assists while Kovalchuk has two goals and seven assists in the five games.
Washington is 1-1-0 on its current four-game homestand but snapped a five-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory over Montreal on Thursday. Dainius Zubrus scored two first-period goals and Alexander Ovechkin had three assists for the Capitals, who are trying to win consecutive games for the first time since defeating Atlanta and Philadelphia on Dec. 15-16.
While the Capitals are at .500, an improvement of 10 games from this time last season, coach Glen Hanlon has been trying to tell his team not to be complacent with mediocrity.
"Our challenge here isn't to play .500," Hanlon said. "Our test now seems to be to take it to the next notch. That's what we're working on. At times, I feel like we're better than a .500 hockey club, and at other times I think we have to play our absolute best to reach that."
Ovechkin has gone a season-high five games without a goal, one shy of the longest drought of his career. The 2006 Calder Trophy winner had two six-game goalless streaks last season, most recently from March 30-April 8.
The 21-year-old Russian, though, has nine goals and 22 points in 13 lifetime games against the Thrashers and had a hat trick in Washington's 3-2 overtime win Dec. 15, netting the game-winner just six seconds into the extra period.