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Thrashers-Capitals Preview @NHLdotcom
Thrashers-Capitals Preview

GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (16-17-6) at Washington Capitals (13-20-3).

TIME: Sunday, 3 p.m. EST.

Washington Capitals rookie star Alexander Ovechkin really likes facing the Atlanta Thrashers with the game on the line.

Ovechkin and the Capitals also hope to start the new year like they finished 2005 - with a big victory - when they host the Thrashers.

The teams have split four games this season with the Capitals winning their games in a shootout thanks the top overall pick in the 2004 draft.

Ovechkin scored the lone shootout goal for the Caps in each win this season over Atlanta, including a 3-2 victory on Nov. 4 at the MCI Center. Named in December to the Russian Olympic team, Ovechkin leads the NHL with five shootout goals in six tries.

Washington opened its season-high six-game homestand with a thrilling 4-3 victory Saturday over the Philadelphia Flyers. Brian Willsie forced overtime with a goal in the third period, before scoring again in the shootout to give the Capitals the win.

Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, and Dainius Zubrus added a goal in regulation for the Capitals, who snapped Philadelphia's six-game winning streak.

"We had about 15 or 16 games in a row where we just totally outworked teams," Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. "We didn't get the result every night that we wanted, but we hit everything that moved, we worked hard, there wasn't one team that outworked us. You're going to have a lull.

The Thrashers ended 2005 with a 4-1 loss Friday to the Buffalo Sabres. It was their first loss in regulation in nine games since a 5-3 defeat Dec. 6 against the San Jose Sharks.

Ilya Kovalchuk, the top overall pick in the 2001 entry draft and Ovechkin's teammate on the Olympic team headed to Turin, assisted on Marc Savard's goal in the third period.

Kovalchuk has six goals and eight assists overall since the loss to the Sharks. He has missed both his shooutout attempts this season in the losses to the Capitals.

He has nine goals and nine assists in 18 career games versus Washington.

STANDINGS: Thrashers - 38 points, 3rd place, 14 PB, Southeast Division. Capitals - 29 points, 5th place, 23 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 23 goals; Savard, 34 assists, 51 points and 64 PIM. Capitals - Ovechkin, 23 goals, 21 assists and 44 points; Brendan Witt, 91 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Thrashers - Power play: 20.3 percent (55 for 271), 5th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.5 percent (202 for 254), 27th. Capitals - Power play: 13.4 percent (29 for 216), 29th. Penalty killing: 78 percent (205 for 263), 30th.

GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Michael Garnett (9-7-4, 2 SO, 3.42 GAA); Kari Lehtonen (0-1-0, 0, 3.00). Capitals - Olaf Kolzig (11-14-3, 0, 3.42); Brent Johnson (2-5-0, 0, 4.91).


LAST MEETING: Dec. 22; Capitals, 6-5 (SO). At Atlanta, Ovechkin had one goal and three assists in regulation before scoring the lone goal in the shooutout.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 7-10-2 on the road; Capitals - 9-8-2 at home.

Associated Press

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