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Ovi, Caps looking to future, starting vs. Thrashers

by John Manasso
ATLANTA -- Two young Russian forwards named Alexander will wear No. 8 -- both of them at one point high first-round draft picks -- Friday when the Thrashers host the Washington Capitals in the season opener for both teams, but those Alexanders will have far different things on their mind.

The Thrashers' 18-year-old Alexander Burmistrov, who wears No. 8 in honor of Igor Larionov, will make his NHL debut and battle to control his nerves, Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said.

"You have to get him to work smart," Ramsay said. "He's going to, at times, try to do too much, try to chase people he shouldn't chase, just do a little extra. He'll have to fight through that."

For his part, Burmistrov, who could be headed back to junior hockey by the Thrashers' 10th game depending on his play, said playing against Washington, with its elite Russian players, is no more special than debuting against any other team. His rebuilt Thrashers team is hoping to compete for the top spot in the Southeast Division, but could be a ways away from challenging mighty Washington.

At 25, the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin is a wily veteran entering his sixth season. With so many expectations after his team won the Presidents' Trophy last season yet was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, the first game of the season represents a fresh start for Ovechkin and his Capitals.

"Everybody, I think, just can't wait to get the season started today," said Ovechkin, who wears No. 8 because his mother wore it as an Olympic basketball player for the USSR. "Everybody's pretty excited. It's going to be a long season."

Veteran forward Mike Knuble, the Caps' oldest player at 38, said the team has stopped talking about last season's disappointment.

"Yeah, we're all excited about it," he said of the start of the new season. "We've kind of stopped talking about everything that happened last season. Again, we're going to be a good team in our League and we're once again an Eastern Conference favorite and we know that. We're comfortable playing with that tag on us.

"Hopefully, we learned something from (losing). Hopefully, we're a better team. I think we're a better team at this point than we were at this point last year. I think we're healthier to start the season. Hopefully we just get off to another good start. I feel good starts in the League are important. If you get off to a bad start, you seem to climb. It keeps going and keeps going. You want to be off to a good start and guys are capable of doing that. I don't expect anything different from last year's start."

Asked about the Capitals' mental approach to the new season and whether the team would have any kind of negative carry-over, Knuble politely referred to being "kind of tired of talking about it."

"Now you have to live in the present a little bit more," he said. "You can live in the past and talk about the past, but we're just worried about the game we're playing tonight, but if you don't take care of your business on this end, you'll never get to that end so it's a long season. I think we all need to remember that.

"You worry about the month of October, you worry about the game, the first week and first couple of games and then you're off and running after that."

Off and running for two Alex's with different goals in mind for different teams with different expectations. But the destination remains the same: the playoffs.
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