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Caps try to continue domination of Thrashers

by Matthew Mankiewich

CAPITALS (14-4-1) at THRASHERS (7-9-3)


Last 10 -- Washington 8-1-1, Atlanta 3-5-2

Season series -- This is already the fourth meeting between the Southeast Division rivals, and the second one this week. Washington has won the last two, including a 6-4 home victory on Sunday, after losing 4-2 at Atlanta in its season-opener.

Big story -- The Capitals have begun to run away with the Southeast Division, opening up a nine-point lead over second-place Tampa Bay. The Thrashers are playing the second of a six-game homestand having lost three in a row and are three points behind the Lightning.

Team Scope

Capitals -- It has become a regular pattern for the Caps -- they open up a big lead, fritter it away but find a way to win. That was the scenario again Wednesday at Verizon Center, when they led the Sabres 3-0 midway through the second period, allowed two goals in 42 seconds, but shut down the Sabres over the remaining 27 minutes to preserve the 4-2 win, holding Buffalo to eight shots at even strength the rest of the way.

"We just had to settle down," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "There's been so much talk about us not being able to play defensively and we started to panic - not panic, just getting all excited on the bench and everything. We had the veteran guys saying 'Relax, we're playing a great game. Let's get it going' and we did."

"I think the key with us is how we win, and not winning only," Matt Bradley said to the Capitals' website. "We have to play more playoff-style games, as far as good defensive play and getting the puck deep, because you can get away with playing other ways during the regular season but you can't do that in the playoffs. It's something we have to work on all year and it's going to take time."

Thrashers -- The latest headline coming out of Atlanta is the appointment of a new captain. Andrew Ladd leads the team in points, goals and ice time for forwards while holding second place in assists. For all of that, he also has a new "C" on his sweater, the move announced late Thursday afternoon.

"I don't know if it was a goal to be captain, but it was definitely a goal to be a leader on this team," Ladd said in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We have a lot of great older guys that have been around that I'm going to be able to lean on throughout the year."

At 24, Ladd is part of a new generation of young captains like 22-year-old Jonathan Toews, 23-year-old Sidney Crosby and 26-year-old Eric Staal.

"Andrew Ladd will be that guy," coach Craig Ramsay said. "It's an enormous responsibility, but he's well-respected. He has stepped up his commitment to himself to make sure he's ready to play every night, and his commitment to the team has been so evident. He's earned that. I didn't know who to pick at the start of the season and he's earned that opportunity."

Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom were named alternates.

Who's hot -- Ladd had a goal and an assist against the Caps but was held off the board against the Panthers in a 2-1 loss on Wednesday. He still has 5 points in his last five games. … Washington's Nicklas Backstrom has 2 goals and 5 assists in his last four games. Alexander Semin has a nine-game point streak in which he has racked up 9 goals and 8 assists. The big news for the Caps, though, is the production they've been getting from the bottom two lines. Bradley had a goal and an assist Wednesday while Jason Chimera set up two scores. Fourth-line center David Steckel also scored a key goal. Goalie Michal Neuvirth leads the NHL with 12 wins.

Injury report -- Byfuglien (lower body) left Wednesday's game limping after blocking a shot and did not practice on Thursday. Fredrik Modin (upper body) missed Wednesday's game and remains day-to-day. Forward Eric Boulton played Wednesday after injuring his left hand Sunday in a fight with Washington's John Erskine. … On the DC side, defenseman Tom Poti (groin) has missed three straight games with no target date for a return.

Stat pack -- The Capitals' power play has been doing fine lately, but at 3-for-7 in their last four games, they haven't had a lot of opportunities. As much of a juggernaut as the Caps are at home, they're only 4-3-1 on the road. Ondrej Pavelec will start in goal for the Thrashers despite a 1-8 career record against the Caps. The Thrashers have led after one period five times so far, their record in those games is 1-2-2.

Puck drop -- "There has to be more. We have to want more in here than just to play good. We have to want to win games and want to be in playoff position. We are not in playoff position right now and we need to get back in that picture." -- New Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on where his team stands right now

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