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Reunions abound in Thrashers-Caps matchup

by Mike G. Morreale
In addition to having six Russian cities represented on the ice at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Friday when the Thrashers play host to the Washington Capitals, the coaches of both sides will also renew acquaintances.

The contest marks the debut of Atlanta's John Anderson, who, like good friend and Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, had much success in the minors. Anderson won five championships, including the AHL's Calder Cup with the Chicago Wolves last season. The Hershey Bears won the 2006 Calder Cup with Boudreau at the helm.

The two played together for the Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey League from 1973-75 and were drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Boudreau was selected in the third round (No. 42) in 1975 and Anderson was chosen 11th in 1977.

"There's no chance I'm talking to him before the game,'' Boudreau said. "I may look at him once on the bench during warmup, but that'll be the only time and I'm sure we'll have a chuckle about it next week.

''He became the godfather to my son and we've stayed very close and helped each other through hard times. We both prayed for the day we could coach in the NHL and it'll be really surreal (on Friday) when we're against each other.''

All eyes will most certainly be on Washington’s Alex Ovechkin of Moscow and Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk of Tver. The two left wings finished first and second, respectively, in goals scored last season. Ovechkin, who captured the Hart, Maurice Richard, Lester B. Pearson and Art Ross Trophies last season, racked up a League-high 65 goals and 112 points in 2007-08. He has 163 goals and 310 points in three seasons (245 games) with the Caps.

In addition, look for Alexander Semin of Krasnoyarsk, Viktor Kozlov of Togliatti and Sergei Fedorov of Pskov to provide plenty of excitement within the Capitals lineup. Semin has 74 goals and 137 points in three seasons with the Caps.

Fedorov, a 17-season veteran, is just two goals shy of surpassing fellow countryman Alexander Molgilny for most career goals by a Russian-born player in the NHL. The 38-year-old Fedorov has racked up 472 goals in 1,196 games. Molgilny posted 473 career goals in 990 games.

Not to be forgotten is Voskresensk-born Slava Kozlov, who played with Fedorov as part of the `Russian Five’ during Detroit’s back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1997 and `98. He begins his sixth season with the Thrashers after posting 41 points last season.

Schneider psyched -- Newly acquired Thrashers defenseman Mathieu Schneider is looking forward to a fresh new start in Atlanta in 2008-09.

In fact, the 39-year-old veteran of 19 NHL seasons likes what he sees along the Atlanta blue line.

"Toby (Tobias Enstrom) moves the puck so well and he’s tremendously smooth out there," Schneider told "Zach (Bogosian) seems to be able to do an awful lot. He’s a big kid and he’s strong. You can see he wants to be physical and he skates extremely well for a big guy. Ron Hainsey has been around for a long time and I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. I played against him a lot when I was with Detroit and he’s just a really good solid player that moves the puck well and can play the point on the power play. He kills penalties; he can do everything out there.

"Niclas Havelid has been a steady guy in this League for years," Schneider said. "I really like our back end for sure and I think that’s going to help the offense, if we can get the puck out of our end quickly."

The Thrashers yielded a League-high 3.24 goals a game last season.


Ironman is ready -- While Carolina Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour admitted feeling a little rusty in his first preseason game last Sunday, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound center was glad to be back on the ice and contributing in some way.

Brind'Amour, who missed most of training camp following knee surgery Sept. 16, saw a little more than 15 minutes of action and pronounced himself ready to roll for Friday’s season-opener against the Florida Panthers in a Southeast Division showdown at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. Carolina coach Peter Laviolette has had Brind'Amour centering for Tuomo Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov in recent practices.

"It’s good to get back in the mix," Brind'Amour said.

After missing the final 22 games of the 2007-08 season with a torn ACL in his left knee, Brind'Amour spent much of the offseason in rehabilitation mode at the Athletic Performance Center in Raleigh. At the time of his injury, Brind'Amour was first in the NHL in faceoffs won (851) and faceoffs taken (1,460) and was third in face-off winning percentage (58.3).

Last month, Brind'Amour re-aggravated his knee after pushing himself down the stretch of a five-kilometer road race.

"In happened right in the last 100 meters," Brind'Amour told The News & Observer. "It was fine for the first 18 minutes of that run and I was feeling great and decided to put a little extra into it at the end. That's when something kind of went in there. I knew right away." Brind'Amour, who at one point in his career started 484 consecutive games, was back in surgery two days after the race.

Brind'Amour, who has 427 goals and 1,114 points in 1,324 career games spanning 19 seasons, took the initial step in re-establishing himself as the team’s second-line center Sunday in a 2-0 victory against the Nashville Predators.

"Hopefully it will get better and better as we move on," Brind’Amour said. "It was important to me to get some of the cobwebs out."

Picking up the pieces – After dropping back-to-back games to the New York Rangers by 2-1 scores during Bridgestone NHL Premiere Prague last weekend, the Tampa Bay Lightning are hoping for a change in fortune when the club plays host to the Carolina Hurricanes in its season opener at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday.

When assessing his team’s performance in Europe, Tampa Bay coach Barry Melrose said his best line throughout the weekend was the trio of Chris Gratton, Adam Hall and 42-year-old Gary Roberts.

"There's no chance I'm talking to him before the game."Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, talking about his friend and Atlanta Thrashers coach John Anderson

"I went in between periods and said my biggest problem is I can't play Gratton's line every shift," Melrose said. "They’re probably the lowest-paid line we got on the ice, but was by far our best line on the ice … by far."

The first-year coach feels his players need to stop thinking so much and just play the game. The Rangers outshot the Lightning, 80-40, in the two games. "We have to get back to a simple mindset," Melrose said. "Great players that keep it simple are very tough to play against. That's what we have to get to doing more of."

One area of strength, despite its 0-2 start to the season, was the goaltending of Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig. Smith stopped 39 of 41 shots Oct. 4 and Kolzig halted 37 shots in his team’s one-goal setback the following day. For Kolzig, it was his first appearance with a different team since coming from Washington, where he spent 16 seasons.

Melrose feels no team can be strong enough between the pipes.

"We'll get home and have some good practice time to get things settled out. But just like defensemen, you never have enough goaltenders," Melrose said. "You think you're solid, and all of a sudden someone takes one off the coconut and someone tweaks a knee to go pick up the puck and you're getting a goaltender out of the East Coast League."

Southeast musings – Atlanta GM Don Waddell assigned defenseman Arturs Kulda to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League on Monday. Kulda, who was impressive at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City and Thrashers training camp, played a big role in the Wolves' Calder Cup championship last season. The 6-foot-2, 194-pound Latvian scored the series-clinching goal in Game 6 of the club's first-round series against the Milwaukee Admirals and had a plus-9 rating in the Cup Final series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

The Capitals assigned defenseman and 2007 first-round draft pick Karl Alzner and forward Chris Bourque to their American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey on Monday. Alzner, the No. 5 pick, signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Washington in May. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau felt Sergei Fedorov’s ability to move back and play defense made the decision of re-assigning Alzner a bit easier: "We thought this was the best way for (Alzner) to develop into what we think is going to be a great defenseman," Boudreau said. "We did tell him he'll play in the NHL for us at some point this year. It might be five games or maybe 65 games. But we believe that he's going to be in the NHL this year.’’ … Expect Capitals center Michael Nylander to play on a line with Chris Clark and Tomas Fleischmann to start the season. Clark missed all but 18 games last season with an abductor injury and Nylander was sidelined the final 38 games of the season with a rotator cuff injury.

After losing right wing Justin Williams to a ruptured Achilles' tendon during training camp last month, the Carolina Hurricanes suffered another setback on Tuesday when they learned that forward Scott Walker would be sidelined six weeks after undergoing surgery on his left hand. Both Williams, who will be out 4-6 months, and Walker will be placed on injured reserve. Carolina's top line during practice this week consisted of Eric Staal centering for Patrick Eaves and Ray Whitney. … Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun appears to be in mid-season form following his scintillating 29-save performance in a 6-0 exhibition victory against the Islanders on Monday. The Panthers ended the preseason 3-2-2.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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