CAPITALS (7-2-2) at THRASHERS (4-3-1)
Last 10 -- Capitals 6-2-2; Thrashers 4-3-1
Season series -- This is the second of six meetings. The Caps came to Phillips Arena last Thursday, took a 5-2 lead in the second period and held on for a 5-4 win. The Capitals scored three goals in 88 seconds in the middle period, highlighted by a fluky 175-foot slap-shot goal from defenseman Jeff Schultz. Ilya Kovalchuk scored twice for the Thrashers. "I think we played overall a pretty good game. Just a couple of lucky bounces on their side," Kovalchuk said. "We got great chances at the end to tie the game."
Big story -- Kovalchuk can become a free agent at the end of the season. The Thrashers are about to learn what life without their captain would feel like -- they play their first game without their leading goal-scorer since he suffered a broken bone in his right foot on Saturday. He is expected to miss four weeks. "We've always talked about our depth," Rich Peverley told the Journal Constitution. "That's going to be challenged. I think it's an opportunity."
Capitals -- This is the Capitals' third road game in their last four contests, and their second trip to Atlanta in a week. They are currently riding a five-game win streak.
In Tuesday's 4-2 victory against Philadelphia, coach Bruce Boudreau reunited his top line from the start of the season and Alex Ovechkin (2-0-2), Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4) and Alexander Semin (1-2-3) totaled 4 goals and 5 assists. It was Semin's first game since Oct. 17; he missed two contests with an undisclosed illness. "If we want to play together, the three of us, we have to play defensively better," Ovechkin told the Washington Post. "So that's our key."
"By adding Alexander Semin to your lineup, now the other team is wondering, 'Who do you cover?' " center Brooks Laich added. "Do you pick Mike Green? Do you pick Alex Ovechkin? Do you pick Alexander Semin? We're glad to have him back."
Thrashers -- This is the final game in the Thrashers' three-game home stand, and the second visit by Washington to Atlanta in that stretch. They have suffered one-goal losses to the Capitals and Sharks.
Before he was injured, Kovalchuk was off to his second-best career start offensively, tying for the team lead with 10 points (9 goals, 1 assist) and tied atop the NHL in goals. Kovalchuk has scored 2 goals on four occasions. Kovalchuk's most points after eight games came in 2003-04 when he tallied 14 points (10 goals, 4 assists) to star the season.
Rich Peverley is tied with Kovalchuk for the team lead with 10 points.
Eighteen-year-old Evander Kane is tied for second among all League rookies in goals and shares the lead among first-year players with one game-winning goal. After Kovalchuk left the last game with his injury, coach John Anderson eventually put Kane on the top line with Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov. Anderson praised Kane's play in Kovalchuk's spot.
"I'm not sure what their plans are for me," Kane told the Journal-Constitution. "If Kovy is out for a certain amount of time, I'm more than prepared to play there. I'll play wherever coach needs me to play."
Atlanta also recalled Jason Krog, who had 1 goal and 6 assists in eight games with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.
Who's hot -- For the Thrashers, Nik Antropov has 3 assists in his last two games, Maxim Afinogenov has a goal and 2 assists in his last two games, and Peverley has 5 goals and 5 assists in his last eight games. For the Capitals, Mike Green has 2 goals and 5 assists in his last six games, Schultz has a goal and 4 assists in his last three games, Mike Knuble has a goal and 6 assists in his last six games, and Brendan Morrison has 4 assists in his last five games.
Injury report -- For the Thrashers, goaltender Kari Lehtonen (back) and defenseman Boris Valabik (ankle) are on injured reserve, and Kovalchuk is out four weeks with a broken bone in his foot. For the Capitals, right wing Boyd Gordon (back) is on injured reserve, and defenseman John Erskine (head) is day-to-day.
Stat pack -- Ovechkin, who came into last week's game with 23 goals and 26 assists for 49 points in 30 career games against Atlanta, was held without a point in that game for only the second time in nine games on the season. He had a relatively quiet night, with just four shots -- 2.7 below his average of last season -- in 24:38 of ice time.
Puck drop -- "It's never good when you lose your best player, top scorer, captain. There is not much we can do about it. We just have to come together as a team and step up. That's the bottom line. Everyone has to help out. It will be a big loss for us." -- Zach Bogosian to the Journal-Constitution on the loss of Kovalchuk
--Rocky Bonanno, NHL.com