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Caps open home season by hosting Devils

by Brian Hunter

DEVILS (0-0-1) at CAPITALS (0-1-0)


Season series
-- First of four meetings this season. New Jersey won the first three matchups last season, although in two of them Alex Ovechkin was absent from the Washington lineup. The Capitals won the most recent meeting on Dec. 26, by a 4-1 score, with Ovi recording a goal and 2 assists.

Big story
-- The top two seeds in the Eastern Conference for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs face off at the Verizon Center. Of course, both teams were upset in the first round last spring, and neither got off to the start it wanted on Friday. New Jersey lost its season opener to Dallas in overtime, while Washington was beaten 4-2 in Atlanta. This is the home opener for the Capitals, who tied Vancouver last season for most wins on home ice.

Team Scope:

-- Ilya Kovalchuk set up goals by new linemates Travis Zajac and Zach Parise before Friday's game was eight minutes old, and Jason Arnott scored a power-play goal in his first game back with New Jersey, but the end result was disappointing. The Devils blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2 en route to a 4-3 overtime loss to the Stars at the Prudential Center. They surrendered a pair of goals to Loui Eriksson, including the game-winner off a 2-on-1 break 1:36 into the extra period.

"We can be much better," Kovalchuk said. "We can definitely spend more time in their zone than our zone, and we can't give up those goals in overtime."

-- It was difficult for both sides to concentrate Friday night in Atlanta after Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec lost consciousness on the ice and collapsed at the 2:25 mark of the first period. Pavelec was alert and resting at the hospital as his teammates rallied around him and handed Washington a 4-2 defeat. Brooks Laich opened the scoring just 53 seconds after Chris Mason replaced Pavelec in net, but Michal Neuvirth surrendered the next three goals before Mike Knuble got one back in the third.

"You get rewarded when you out work teams," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "They outworked us and they got rewarded."

Who's hot
-- The Zajac-Parise-Kovalchuk line was the Devils' best during the preseason and contributed 2 goals and 5 points to the cause Friday. ... Laich scored the only goal in the Capitals' Game 7 loss to the Canadiens last April and got their first tally of the new season.

Injury report
-- New Jersey is without defensemen Bryce Salvador (concussion) and Anssi Salmela (knee), while Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov is out with an undisclosed injury. Veteran Dany Sabourin backed up Neuvirth against Atlanta.

Stat pack
-- Devils goalie Martin Brodeur made his NHL-record 16th consecutive opening-night start Friday, finishing with 24 saves. ... Ovechkin finished with a game-high eight shots for the Capitals, picking up his only point of the night with an assist on Knuble's goal.

Puck drop
-- Washington came out of its opener rather displeased -- "We did not play our game at all," Ovechkin said -- while New Jersey tended to look more on the bright side of things after salvaging a point against Dallas.

"I thought we competed really hard," said John MacLean, who made his NHL coaching debut. "The work ethic was there. We had some chances. All the little mistakes we made are all correctable. We've just got to keep plugging."

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