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Capitals-Thrashers Preview

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Ilya Kovalchuk's first career hat trick was against Washington. A three-goal game in a matchup with the Capitals on Tuesday night would put his name in the NHL record book.

Kovalchuk has a chance to record his third straight hat trick as he leads the Atlanta Thrashers against the Capitals in a matchup of the Southeast Division's worst teams.

Kovalchuk is coming off his second consecutive three-goal game, helping the Thrashers (5-9-0) rally for a 6-4 win over Tampa Bay on Saturday night. His three goals against Ottawa on Thursday night weren't enough as Atlanta lost 6-4.

It is believed that no player in NHL history has ever had three straight hat tricks. The sixth-year winger certainly has the talent to do it, having scored more goals than any player in the NHL since 2001-02 with 214.

Kovalchuk has now scored three goals in a game nine times in his career, including a four-goal effort in a 5-2 win over Tampa Bay on Nov. 11, 2005. His first career hat trick was in a 7-6 overtime loss to Washington on Dec. 6, 2002.

Tied with the Capitals (5-9-0) for last place in the Southeast Division, the Thrashers haven't always been able to take advantage of Kovalchuk's production. He is tied with Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg for the NHL lead with 12 goals.

"He's going as good as I've seen him go," Atlanta general manager and interim coach Don Waddell said. "This is outstanding."

Kovalchuk has a nine-game points streak (five goals, 13 points) against the Capitals, and has 17 goals and 37 points in 31 career games against them. He has sparked a Thrashers team that has scored four goals or more four times in its last eight games, going 5-3-0 in that span after starting the season with six straight losses.

Atlanta opened that tailspin with a 3-1 loss to Washington on Oct. 5. Kovalchuk had an assist in that game after scoring a goal in each of his previous three contests against the Capitals.

The Capitals' win over the Thrashers was the beginning of a three-game winning streak, but they haven't come close to matching that success since, going 2-9-0. Washington has lost three straight and its only goals in that span came in a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on Friday night.

The Capitals reached a new low Monday night as they suffered their worst loss of the season, 5-0 against Carolina. It was Washington's first division loss of the season.

"Any time you go on a streak like this losing, it's never fun," Capitals winger Matt Pettinger said. "It's still early, but we have to do something to right this ship. You don't want to get too far behind the eight ball."

Washington star Alex Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet Monday for just the third time this season, but he will be facing an Atlanta team that he has had plenty of success against. He has 14 goals and 29 points in just 17 games against the Thrashers, including an assist on Oct. 5.

Alexander Semin has two goals and four points in his last two games against Atlanta, but he has been limited to only four games this season due to an ankle injury. Chris Clark, meanwhile, has missed five straight games after one of Ovechkin's shots struck him in the ear during a loss to Vancouver on Oct. 26.

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