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Capitals showing who's boss in Southeast

by Mike G. Morreale /
The Washington Capitals made a clear statement in their decisive victory against Carolina last Wednesday. They are, indeed, the team to beat in the Southeast Division this season.

Making sure that claim was heard loud and clear were linemates Alexander Semin, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

The Capitals' top line played a part in all five goals in a 5-1 victory against the Hurricanes to take sole possession of first place in the Southeast. Semin, who was named the NHL's First Star of the Month for October, had 2 goals and 3 assists. The Caps have won both meetings against Carolina this season and has strung together four-straight triumphs against the Hurricanes.

"We have so much fun out there," Ovechkin said of playing with Semin and Backstrom. "And we just control the game. I think we pass to each other and we create some moments. We play all the time in the attack zone. If something happened with me or Semin or Backstrom, like someone doesn't feel great, different guys take the game and control the game. So it's very cool."

Ovechkin has been inspired by Semin's play.

"What I can say about his game?" he said. "He's great right now. I wish he'd go push for it all the time. I hope he's going to play the same way all year."

"They can be cute if they are going to get five goals a night," coach Bruce Boudreau told the Washington Post. "You can tell the potential they have when they are on top of their game. And all three were on top of their game (Wednesday night)."

Carolina will complete a four-game stretch against divisional opponents Sunday when it faces the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hurricanes forward Scott Walker, who scored the team's only goal against Washington, knows the Hurricanes must dig deeper.

"I don't know if we're playing on our heels or what, but we're just throwing on our gear and going out there," Walker told The Raleigh News & Observer. "It's the little games within the game. It's the little battles -- getting beat up the ice, getting beat down the ice."

Defenseman Tim Gleason doesn't want a repeat of last year's collapse. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2005-06, the Hurricanes haven't qualified for postseason play the last two seasons.

"This is exactly what happened last year," Gleason said. "We started off with a pretty good start and we stunk it up in November and December, and that's what killed us in April. We don't want to do that."

Calling Booth -- The Florida Panthers snapped a six-game losing streak last Sunday as David Booth notched his first NHL hat trick in a 3-1 victory against the Anaheim Ducks.

Through 15 games, Booth, who had 22 goals in 2007-08, has a team-leading seven while skating with Nathan Horton and Anthony Stewart. His hat trick was the first for Florida since Richard Zednik netted three in last season's 8-0 victory over Toronto. Booth recorded the 29th hat trick in franchise history.

"He's becoming a dominant player," coach Peter DeBoer told the Panthers' Web site. "Really, right from training camp, he came in and he was our most fit player in testing. He worked awful hard this summer. He's a perfect example of a guy who wasn't going to sit back on a 20-plus goal year last year and make it the highlight of his career. He's come back to show that it's just the tip of the iceberg. He's going to do more than that. I think he's going to be a special player for a long time."

The Panthers followed their win over Carolina with a 4-0 victory against Tampa Bay. Goalie Craig Anderson stopped 24 shots in earning his first shutout of the season. Anderson, who has made two-straight starts, has stopped 68 of 69 shots.

In addition to switching up Booth's line, DeBoer also re-arranged his remaining three lines. Stephen Weiss has skated with Brett McLean and Michael Frolik; Gregory Campbell is with Rostislav Olesz and Radek Dvorak and Ville Peltonen, Wade Belak and Richard Zednik work a fourth unit.

Johnny on the spot -- Capitals goalie Brent Johnson, who has posted a 5-1-2 record with a 2.15 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in eight appearances this season, hurt his hip against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday.

"They can be cute if they are going to get five goals a night."
-- Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, on his top line of Alexander Semin-Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom

Johnson didn't return to the game, but said the injury wasn't serious. Johnson was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week for the week ending Nov. 9 after going 3-0-1 with a 1.72 GAA and .951 save percentage. Making three-straight starts for the first time since March 2007, Johnson posted a 2-0-1 record with a 1.63 goals-against average and .953 save percentage as the Capitals collected five of six available points. He made a season-high 42 saves in a 2-1 overtime loss at Ottawa Nov. 4, stopped 32 shots in a 3-2 victory over Carolina Nov. 6 and made 28 stops in a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers Nov. 8.

Saluting Igor -- Atlanta Thrashers forward Slava Kozlov was happy to see former Detroit Red Wings teammate Igor Larionov inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last week.

Kozlov, who played on the "Russian Five" line in Detroit with Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Sergei Fedorov and Vladimir Konstantinov, won two Stanley Cups in Hockeytown alongside his fellow countrymen. In 1996-97, Kozlov struck for 23 goals and 45 points in helping the Wings capture their first Cup since '55. The following season, he posted 25 goals and 52 points to earn a second straight championship in Detroit.

"(Larionov) was such a great passer," Kozlov told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "He knew when to pass and when to hold onto the puck. I learned a lot from those guys. I think it was my best time I ever played.

"I think it changed my career. I used to be a little bit selfish. Then, when I watched how they passed the puck, I changed my strategy. Now, I enjoy when somebody (else) scores. The main goal is the goal. It doesn't matter who is going to score. That's what I got from those guys."

Through 14 games this season, Kozlov has 8 goals and 14 points.

Quotables -- "(Tomas Holmstrom) has this subtle little way of backing into the goaltender right as the shot is coming. I just told (referee Don Koharski) that enough was enough, and he tried to explain to me that if they would have scored it wouldn't have counted and I hear that explanation all the time. It's about time they call a penalty on it." -- Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Olie Kolzig, who was irritated with the way Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom set up shop in the crease in Thursday's 4-3 loss.

Ice chips -- The Thrashers have more wins at Carolina (10) than they do at home (4) against the Hurricanes. ... Washington's Alexander Semin has 17 career goals against Carolina, his most against any team, and 4 in two games this season. ... To make room for center Brandon Sutter (concussion), who was activated off injured reserve Wednesday, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford re-assigned Dwight Helminen to the AHL Albany. In addition to the return of Sutter (concussion), center Matt Cullen (groin) and defenseman Joni Pitkanen (knee) returned from injury on Wednesday against the Washington Capitals. ... Florida wing Cory Stillman returned to the ice wearing a visor on Wednesday in a 4-0 victory against Tampa Bay after missing three games with a concussion. ... The "Saw V" mask worn by Lightning goalie Mike Smith recently sold for $4,300 with the proceeds going to The Lightning Foundation. Meanwhile, the "Saw V" mask worn by goalie Olie Kolzig raised $4,900 with proceeds benefiting Athletes Against Autism. ... The Thrashers recalled goalie Ondrej Pavelec from their minor-league affiliate in Chicago on Thursday after starter Kari Lehtonen re-injured his back on Tuesday. Lehtonen has been sidelined since an Oct. 30 road loss to the New York Rangers with an illness and back stiffness. ... Florida is 11-2 on home ice at BankAtlantic Center against Tampa Bay since the start of the 2005-06 season. ... The Capitals signed 18-year-old defenseman John Carlson, one of their two first-round choices (No. 27) in the 2008 Entry Draft, to a three-year entry-level contract on Thursday. In 12 games with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League this season, Carlson has recorded 12 points (2 goals) with a plus-11 rating. Carlson played two preseason games with the Caps and posted 2 assists. ... Thrashers rookie defenseman Zach Bogosian will be out for at least four more weeks with a broken bone in his lower left leg, an injury suffered in a 7-0 loss to the Flyers on Oct. 28. ... Florida left wing Gregory Campbell went nine games without scoring a goal before notching a pair during Wednesday's 4-0 victory against the Lightning. ... The Lightning slipped to 0-17 lifetime against Detroit goalie Chris Osgood following Thursday's 4-3 loss in Tampa. ... General manager Brian Lawton understands the difficulty in reshaping a team's defense which is why he continued tinkering with his blue line last week with the addition of defenseman Steve Eminger from the Philadelphia Flyers. ... Recent Tampa Bay Lightning acquisition, Steve Eminger, became the 11th defenseman to dress for the Lightning in 16 games this season.

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