Opportunity Lost –
Washington certainly had the Atlanta Thrashers in a good spot coming into Saturday night’s game, at least on paper. Winners of five straight and eight of their previous nine games at Verizon Center, the Caps were idle on Friday night while the Thrashers had all they could do to come from behind twice and pull out a 5-4 home ice win over the Sabres.
Atlanta was 3-6-1 in its previous 10 road games, and needed overtime to record two of those wins. More telling, the Thrashers came into Saturday night’s game with a pitiful 1-8-1 record in the second of back-to-back games this season and they had been outscored 53-20 in those 10 games.
Finally, Atlanta would be without its top goal scorer, left wing Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk missed his second straight game because of a knee injury. He has accounted for more than a quarter (26%) of all the Thrashers’ goals this season. Before Saturday night, Kovalchuk had missed only two career games against Washington, both because of a contract holdout at the beginning of the 2005-06 season.
None of that mattered. The Caps outshot the Thrashers 36-13 but everything in Washington’s favor added up to a 2-0 loss in what was the most important game the Caps have played after Feb. 1 in the last five years.
Washington was shutout for the second time in its last three games, and held to two or fewer goals in four of its last five games. The Caps have scored nine goals in their last five games.Turning the Tide –
Coming into Saturday night’s game at Verizon Center, Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonen was 6-3-2 with a 2.86 goals against average and a .906 save pct. lifetime against the Capitals. More recently, Lehtonen had fared poorly against the Caps.
Washington torched the 24-year-old Finn for six goals in a 6-3 Caps win in the previous meeting between the two teams, on Dec. 8 at Verizon Center. And in his three most recent starts against the Capitals, Lehtonen was 0-3 with a 4.06 goals against average.
None of that mattered on Saturday as Lehtonen stopped all 36 shots the Caps fired his way, the Atlanta defense got in the way of 17 more and Washington missed the mark on another 13 bids.
Lehtonen notched his third shutout of the season and the 10th of his career, and Todd White supplied all the offense Atlanta would need when Todd White scored his first goal in nearly a month (a span of 13 games) at 11:34 of the third period. Marian Hossa sealed the deal with a late empty-netter.Not You Again –
As you might (or certainly should) expect, longtime Caps nemesis Mark Recchi also had a hand in the Caps’ misery. Recchi collected the primary assists on both Thrashers goals, giving him 104 career points (46 goals, 58 assists) in 87 games against the Capitals.
Recchi celebrated his 40th birthday on Friday, picking up his 518th career goal in the Thrashers’ 5-4 shootout win over Buffalo. Recchi’s 1,363 points ranks third all-time among all active NHL players, trailing only Colorado’s Joe Sakic and the Rangers’ Jaromir Jagr.
Recchi has climbed into elite territory as a Caps killer. He now trails only Hockey Hall of Famers Marcel Dionne (108) and Wayne Gretzky (105) among those players with the most career points against the Capitals. On Saturday he surpassed Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier (103) on that list. Another Hall of Famer (Mario Lemieux, 101) is just behind Recchi.
Recchi is third all-time with 46 goals against Washington. Only Hall of Famer Mike Bossy (55) and Lemieux (51) have more.Deuces Not So Wild –
Washington is a pedestrian 5-5-2 in the dozen games this season in which it has scored exactly two goals.A Hart Case –
A game after his landmark four-goal, five-point performance in a 5-4 win over Montreal, Alex Ovechkin
was held off the scoresheet along with the rest of his teammates. He had seven shots on goal, had six blocked, and missed the net with four other attempts.
Heading into Saturday night’s game, Ovechkin had built up quite a case for himself as the league’s MVP (but he won’t get proper consideration unless the Caps make the playoffs).
Ovechkin’s 25 “late-game pressure points” are tied with Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson for most in the NHL. San Jose’s Joe Thornton has 24, while Calgary’s Jarome Iginla and Kovalchuk both have 23.
Ovechkin leads the NHL in “late-game pressure goals” with 17. Kovalchuk has 15, Alfredsson has 13 and the Blue Jackets’ Nikolai Zherdev has 13.
Ovechkin and Kovalchuk are tied for the league lead with 21 lead-changing goals.
Ovechkin leads the league with 27 even-strength goals and 16 power play goals. His 47 even strength points also leads the league.
Only Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg (11) has more first-period goals than Ovechkin’s 10, and the Caps’ left winger is tied with Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier for the league lead with 15 second-period goals. Ovechkin’s 17 third-period goals rank second in the NHL, one behind Ilya Kovalchuk’s 18.
Ovechkin has seven multiple-goal games, and he trails only Alfredsson and Iginla, both of whom have eight. Ovechkin is tied for the league lead with two hat tricks, and both of his hat tricks are four-goal games. The last NHL players to have two four-goal games in the same season are Washington’s Peter Bondra and Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux, both of whom achieved the feat in 1995-96.Juice on the Loose –
Heading into Saturday night’s game, Caps defenseman Milan Jurcina’s 15 hits in the previous 10 days ranked third in the league, behind Matt Cooke of Vancover and Brandon Dubinsky of the Rangers (17 each). With 11 blocked shots in the previous 10 days, Jurcina ranked fifth in the league in that department for that period of time.
He registered three hits but did not block any shots in Saturday’s loss to Atlanta.
Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the trade that brought Jurcina to the District from Boston in exchange for a conditional draft pick. In 77 games as a Cap, Jurcina has three goals, 15 points and is plus-3.Unfamiliar Territory –
Coming into Saturday’s game, Caps left wing Alexander Semin
had logged a total of 1:21 for the season before Saturday night’s game, or an average of :02 per contest. He was forced into some PK duty on Saturday, and logged 1:10 of the 2:00 the Caps spent shorthanded in the game. Down on the Farm –
Hershey recorded a 5-2 win over the Albany River Rats at Giant Center on Saturday night. Daren Machesney made 23 saves to run his record to 14-3-2-1 on the season and Jason Morgan scored a pair of goals.
Eric Fehr, Joe Motzko and Chris Bourque
also scored and Jay Beagle
and Josef Boumedienne each had a pair of assists.
The Bears are in a three-way tie for second place in the AHL’s East Division with 56 points, nine points behind front-running Philadelphia.
The ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays found themselves on the short end of a 7-3 setback at the hands of the Gwinnett Gladiators on Saturday. The Stingrays stand second in the ECHL’s South Division, two points ahead of Gwinnett.