Both the Atlanta Thrashers and Washington Capitals have made coaching changes this season, but only one team has responded positively.
Now led by general manager Don Waddell, the resurgent Thrashers meet Bruce Boudreau's Capitals on Saturday night for the first time since Washington fired Glen Hanlon last month.
Under longtime coach Bob Hartley, Atlanta (14-13-1) won the Southeast Division last season to reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Thrashers, though, were swept in the opening round by the New York Rangers, and their losing ways continued with a six-game skid to start this season.
But with a 4-2 win over the Rangers on Friday, Atlanta improved to 14-7-1 under Waddell. Slava Kozlov's goal with 5:17 to play snapped a 2-all tie, Jim Slater had two assists and backup goaltender Johan Hedberg stopped 30 shots.
The victory also drew Atlanta within four points of division-leading Carolina.
Hanlon's last game behind Washington's bench was a 5-1 loss to the Atlanta on Nov. 21 that extended the Capitals' losing streak to a season-high five games. The next day Boudreau was promoted from coach of the Caps' AHL team to take over on an interim basis after Hanlon's exit.
Washington (9-17-2) won its first two games under Boudreau, but has since dropped four of five including a 3-2 defeat on Friday to surging New Jersey, which has won nine in a row.
Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich scored third-period goals for the short-handed Capitals, who played without captain Chris Clark (groin), Boyd Gordon (broken hand) and second-leading scorer Michael Nylander due to an undisclosed injury. Joe Motzko was recalled from Hershey before the game, and he responded with an assist.
Washington still has the fewest wins in the league, and its 3-8-1 record at the Verizon Center also is an NHL-worst.
"We're a team that needs 20 guys to go," Boudreau said.
Despite the disparities in both clubs, the league's top two goal scorers will be on display in Washington's Alexander Ovechkin and Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk.
Ovechkin has three goals and three assists in a three-game points streak. Washington's top overall pick in the 2004 NHL draft has points in 23 of 28 games this season and has scored 20 of the Capitals' 65 goals this season.
Ovechkin has registered three multi-goal and four multi-point games in his last seven games against the Thrashers. Overall, he has nine goals - six on the power play and two game-winners - with two assists in that span.
Kovalchuk was held off the scoresheet in Friday's win over the Rangers, snapping a season high-tying four-game points streak. Still, he leads the league with 23 goals, three more than his fellow countryman Ovechkin.
During Hanlon's final game, Kovalchuk had two goals and two assists to match a season-high with four points. That also extended his scoring run against the Caps to 11 games dating back to Oct. 14, 2006.
Kovalchuk has eight goals and 10 assists versus Washington in that stretch.