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Atlanta Thrashers vs. Washington Capitals @NHL
Thrashers-Capitals Preview

GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (0-1-0-0) at Washington Capitals (1-0-0-0).

TIME: Friday, 7 p.m. EDT.

The Washington Capitals had to wait an extra year to see Alexander Ovechkin on the ice. The Atlanta Thrashers aren't sure how long they'll have to wait for Ilya Kovalchuk.

Coming off an outstanding NHL debut, Ovechkin leads the Capitals meet a Thrashers team trying to make do without their star.

Ovechkin, who has often been compared to a young Mario Lemieux, became the first Capitals player to score twice in his debut, leading Washington to season-opening 3-2 victory Wednesday over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The 20-year-old Russian, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft wasted no time making his presence known. On his first shift, 40 seconds into the game, he sideswiped Radoslav Suchy into the boards behind the Columbus net with such force that a beam fell to the ice. The game was delayed for short time while it was replaced.

"We want our star players to work hard and be a part of the team. Every time we got down, he answered, and that's what superstars do," said Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who is counting on Ovechkin to help lure fans back.

Ovechkin twice answered with goals less than 90 seconds after Columbus took the lead. Counting the preseason, Ovechkin has six goals and three assists in his last three games.

"I feel my dreams come true," Ovechkin said. "I play in the NHL. First game, we win."

Atlanta lost its season opener Wednesday 2-0 to the Florida Panthers.

The Thrashers are playing without their best player in Kovalchuk, who remains a holdout and is threatening to play in his native Russia.

Kovalchuk scored 41 goals in 2003-04, tying him with Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Columbus' Rick Nash for the league lead.

Atlanta feels it can succeed without the top pick in the 2001 draft.

"We have a lot of great players, but he's not here right now," right wing Scott Mellanby said. "We believe we have a good team with what we have."

The Thrashers lost starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen after one period with a groin injury. The rookie's status for Friday's game is uncertain.

STANDINGS (through Oct. 5): Thrashers - 0 points, 3rd place (tied), 2 PB, Southeast Division. Capitals - 3 points, 1st place, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - no goals; Greg de Vries, 6 PIM. Capitals - Ovechkin, 2 goals; Jeff Halpern, 3 assists and 3 points; Petr Sykora, 4 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Oct. 5): Thrashers - Power play: 0 percent (0 for 6), 21st (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 87.5 percent (7 for 8), 15th (tied). Capitals - Power play: 25.0 percent (2 for 8), 3rd (tied). Penalty killing: 100 percent (9 for 9), 1st (tied).

GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Mike Dunham (0-1-0, 0 SO, 3.00 GAA); Lehtonen (0-0-0, 0, 0.00). Capitals - Olaf Kolzig (1-0-0, 0, 2.00); Brent Johnson (no record).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: 2-2-1.

LAST MEETING: March 24, 2004; Thrashers, 3-2. At Atlanta, Daniel Tjarnqvist scored a 55-foot shot with 7:24 remaining for the Thrashers.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 0-1-0-0 on the road; Capitals - 1-0-0-0 at home.

Associated Press
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