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Gameday - Oct. 7 vs Atlanta Thrashers

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals

October 7
versus Atlanta Thrashers at MCI Center 
Time: 7:00 pm
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: WTNT 570 AM

Atlanta Thrashers (0-1)
Washington Capitals (1-0)

Rivalries are to be accentuated in the new NHL, which is why the number of divisional games has increased from 24 in 2003-04 to 32 in 2005-06. On Friday night the Capitals play the first of a home- and-home set with Southeast Division rival Atlanta at MCI Center. Twenty-four hours later, the two teams faceoff against each other at Philips Arena in Atlanta. The weekend meetings mark the first two of eight contests between the two clubs this season.

Washington is fresh off a thrilling 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in its season opener on Wednesday night. Rookie sensation Alex Ovechkin scored two goals in his NHL debut, becoming the first Capital ever to achieve the feat. Jeff Halpern recorded three assists, Dainius Zubrus had a goal (the game-winner) and an assist, Olie Kolzig made 35 saves and Washington killed nine Columbus power plays flawlessly.

"We tried to space out our ice time and we tried give everybody a role and we tried to make everybody feel important," said coach Glen Hanlon after the game. "A couple of guys ended up having to do a little bit more than others but over this first group of games here, everyone is going to have a chance."

Halpern picked up the primary assists on both the game-tying and game-winning goals, making tremendous plays to set up both. The Caps' captain was also a key cog on the Washington penalty killing unit. Nursing a three goal lead in the third, the Capitals managed to kill off four Columbus power plays in the period, including two in the final five minutes of play.

"We do a lot of good things," said Halpern, "but - in this game and in the preseason - we've gotten on our heels a little bit in the third. That's something that will come. The more success you have, the more comfortable you'll feel.

In the midst of a stretch where they play four games in six days, the Capitals took Thursday off to rest and recuperate from their hard-fought season opener. Many of Washington's practices are now designed to replicate the intensity, length and tempo of actual games. As a trade-off for all their hard work at the practice rink, the Caps receive more days off and skate on fewer mornings before games.

"We've tried to impress upon our players [the importance of] our conditioning," Hanlon stated. "We have lots of days off, we have long practices and we feel that to keep a high tempo for two hours, you have to practice close to two hours. We give them all kinds of time off to recover. It was important that we could see the fruits of that labor [in that area]."

On opening night, the Capitals were 2-for-8 (25%) on the power play and 9-for-9 (100%) in the penalty killing department.

Atlanta opened on the road in Florida on Wednesday, suffering a 2-0 whitewash at the hands of Roberto Luongo and the Panthers. Luongo made 34 saves. The Thrashers played without their biggest offensive threat, Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk, who tied for the league lead with 41 goals in 2003-04, is a contract holdout who has threatened to play the 2005-06 season in his native Russia. With Kovalchuk out of action, J-P Vigier (10 goals in 70 games in 2003-04) has moved up in the lineup.

Rookie Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonen left the Florida game after the first 20 minutes with a groin injury. Lehtonen suffered a groin injury on the opposite side early in training camp this year. Veteran Mike Dunham, signed as a free agent during the offseason, replaced Lehtonen against Florida and was tagged with the loss. Lehtonen was placed on injured reserve on Thursday, and Atlanta will be forced to summon a goaltender from its AHL affiliate in Chicago.

Having improved their defense, the Thrashers are expected to contend for a playoff berth for the first time in 2005-06. Atlanta entered the NHL as an expansion franchise in 1999-2000 and has yet to exceed the 80-point mark in its five NHL campaigns. The Thrashers have made steady progress and achieved franchise bests in wins (33), points (78) and goals against (243) in 2003-04.

Since the end of the 2003-04 season, the Thrashers have added Dunham, defensemen Jaroslav Modry, Niclas Havelid, Greg deVries and Shane Hnidy, and forwards Bobby Holik, Marian Hossa and Peter Bondra. Former Calder Trophy winner Dany Heatley was subtracted; he was sent to Ottawa in the trade that brought deVries and Hossa to the Thrashers.

Havelid and Modry both played more than 33 minutes for Atlanta on opening night. The Thrashers displayed little confidence in their third defensive pairing against Florida. Rookie Braydon Coburn skated just 7:38 in his NHL debut and partner Tomas Kloucek logged only 3:14.

The Thrashers were 0-for-6 with the extra man in their first game of the season. Atlanta successfully killed off seven of its eight (87.5%) shorthanded situations on the night.

Fun Fact: The Capitals have had success in the all-time series against Atlanta, posting a 14-7-5 mark in the 26 meetings. But the Thrashers won the season's series from the Caps for the first time in 2003-04, going 3-2-1 against Washington.

Ilya Kovalchuk has always been a thorn in Washington's side, but the holdout forward won't be in the lineup this weekend unless a monumental meeting of the minds occurs between Kovalchuk, his agent and Thrashers general manager Don Waddell. Kovalchuk has eight goals and 17 points in 15 career games against Washington.

Short Shifts: Mathieu Biron has four career points (one goal, three assists) in 10 career games against Atlanta. The figure represents Biron's highest total against any single opponent ... Matt Bradley has four assists in six career games against the Thrashers ... Boyd Gordon scored his first NHL goal and added an assist against the Thrashers on Oct. 11, 2003 ... Jeff Halpern has five goals and 13 points in 24 career contests against Atlanta ... Olie Kolzig is 10-4-4 with four shutouts and a 1.86 GAA lifetime vs. Atlanta ... Shaone Morrisonn has an assist in his lone career game against the Thrashers ... Maxime Ouellet recorded a 37-save shutout over the Thrashers in Atlanta on Dec. 16, 2003 for his first and thus far only NHL shutout ... Matt Pettinger has scored two of his 14 career goals in his 13 games against Atlanta ... Brian Willsie has three goals and five points in eight career games against the Thrashers ... Dainius Zubrus has seven goals and 12 points in 17 career games against Atlanta ... Marian Hossa had two goals and five points in four games against Washington in 2003-04. Hossa has 10 goals and 20 points in 22 career games against the Capitals ... Slava Kozlov had two goals and four points in six games vs. the Capitals in 2003-04 ... Kari Lehtonen won the only start of his career against the Caps on March 24, 2004. He stopped 25 of 27 shots that night ... Ronald Petrovicky had three goals and five points in six games against Washington in 2003-04 ... Patrik Stefan had one goal and four points in six contests against the Caps in '03-04 ... Andy Sutton netted three of his career- high eight goals against the Capitals in 2003-04.

Atlanta Thrashers
Defenseman Garnet Exelby has a leg injury and is out indefinitely.
Defenseman Shane Hnidy has a shoulder injury and is out indefinitely.

Defenseman Ivan Majesky is week-to-week with a knee injury.
Right wing Chris Clark is day- to-day with a rib injury.

Possible Line combos and defensive pairings

Atlanta Forwards
13-Kozlov, 9-Savard, 11-Vigier
12-Bondra, 16- Holik, 18-Hossa
24-Kunitz, 27-Stefan, 19-Mellanby
29- Larsen, 10-Aubin, 26-Petrovicky
Atlanta Defensemen
28-Havelid, 44-Modry
7-deVries, 25- Sutton
4-Coburn, 5-Kloucek

1- Dunham, 35-Garnett

Washington Forwards
8- Ovechkin, 9-Zubrus, 11-Halpern
12-Friesen, 25-Cassels, 20- Sykora
27-Clymer, 16- Sutherby, 17-Clark
24-Willsie, 15-Gordon, 10-Bradley

Washington Defensemen
19-Witt, 44-Eminger
6-Heward, 47-Muir
26-Morrisonn, 34- Biron

1-Johnson, 37-Kolzig

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