After a career-high 52 goals, Ilya Kovalchuk was expected to be among the league's scoring leaders this season. Five games into the new season, few would have thought he'd still be looking for his first tally - or chasing league leader Alexander Semin.
Kovalchuk will try again for his first goal when the Thrashers (3-1-1) meet Semin and the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on Saturday night.
In 2005-06, Kovalchuk had one goal in five games last season before breaking through with two in a 4-3 win over the Islanders in Atlanta's sixth game. At season's end, he'd finished with 10 multigoal games, including a career-high four goals in a win over Tampa Bay on Nov. 11.
On Friday in a 4-3 loss to Carolina, Kovalchuk had 10 shots on goal including one a breakaway that led to the Hurricanes' third goal. He also wasn't sure of the reason for the slow start.
"I want to score every game, but I don't know what's going on. It's bad luck." said Kovalchuk, who leads all NHL players with 131 goals since the start of the 2002-03 season.
In 22 games against Washington, Kovalchuk has 12 goals and 24 points.
Reigning rookie of the year Alexander Ovechkin was expected to carry the Capitals again this season, but in the early going, it's been Semin. He scored his league-leading fifth goal Thursday, but failed to convert a shootout attempt as the Capitals lost 3-2 to Minnesota.
The 12th overall selection by the Capitals in the 2002 NHL entry draft, Semin returned to them this season after spending two in Russia. The team sued him after he chose to play in his native country instead of going to the minors during the lockout.
The Capitals (1-1-1) also hope Semin can continue his fast start after netting just 10 goals in 52 games for them in 2003-04 - his first in the NHL. He has three goals in four games against Atlanta.
The Caps continued, though, to show a lack of discipline after being whistled for 11 penalties Thursday. Minnesota scored both its goals on the power play.
"For us it can be looked at as a game of too many penalties, and that's certainly in our control," Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. "For us, that's the only area of concern."
Washington led the league with 673 penalties and was fifth in penalty minutes with 1,499 last season.
Brent Johnson made 36 saves Thursday in his first start of the season, but is likely to return to his role as backup despite being 4-1 with a 2.41 goals-against average in five games - including four starts - against Atlanta.
Olaf Kolzig started the first two games of the season and is 1-1 with a 3.02 GAA. He was 2-4-1 with a 4.38 GAA in seven starts against the Thrashers last season.
Kari Lehtonen saw his goals-against average increase from 0.74 to 1.19 after Thursday's loss. He is 3-0 with a 1.98 GAA in three career starts against the Caps.
Jon Sim scored twice in a 22-second span of the second period Thursday to give him four goals this season. The left wing had 17 goals for Philadelphia and Florida last season.
Atlanta was 5-1-2 against Washington last season. After this contest, the Thrashers will not play again until Thursday when they host the Capitals.