Alexander Ovechkin is widely considered to be the NHL's most exciting player. Calling him the league's best wouldn't be much of a stretch, either.
Ovechkin looks to move closer to his first 50-goal season on Saturday night when the surging Capitals host the Atlanta Thrashers, who will be without fellow All-Star forward Ilya Kovalchuk.
|Alex Ovechkin stopped a two-game scoring drought with four goals on Thursday. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Faced with the prospect of his third straight game without a goal, Ovechkin responded by scoring four times, the final tally coming with 1:26 left in overtime, in a 5-4 victory over visiting Montreal on Thursday.
It was the second time this season that Ovechkin had four goals and five points in game. He also did it Dec. 29 in an 8-6 win over Ottawa.
The Russian superstar also displayed his toughness, remaining in the game after breaking his nose when he was driven hard into the boards by Canadiens defenseman Francis Bouillon in the second period.
"Today was a special day," Ovechkin said with a smile. "I broke my nose, have stitches (and) score four goals. Everything (went) to my face."
Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 43 goals, took over the league scoring lead with 70 points, two more than Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson. It's the first time Ovechkin has been the NHL scoring leader.
Ovechkin also joined Peter Bondra as the only Capitals with three straight 40-goal seasons, and is on pace to be the NHL's first 60-goal scorer since Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux (69) and Jaromir Jagr (62) in 1995-96.
|Eric Perrin's shootout goal was the difference in Atlanta's second straight win Friday. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
In nine games since signing a $124 million,13-year contract, Ovechkin has 11 goals and seven assists. Viktor Kozlov has benefited from his linemate's stellar play, collecting six goals and three assists in his last six games.
"The way Ovie scored the goals today, he's pretty amazing," Kozlov said. "Alex's game is excellent, excellent. Hitting people, passing, scoring. I don't know what else forwards could do."
Washington (24-23-5) will try to win six straight home games for the first time since a seven-game run from Nov. 17-Dec. 16, 2000. The Capitals have won six of eight to pull within three points of Southeast Division-leading Carolina.
The highlight of any matchup between Washington and Atlanta (24-25-4) is a head-to-head meeting featuring Ovechkin and Kovalchuk. But Kovalchuk, who's second in the NHL in goals, will sit out his second straight game due to a right knee injury sustained in Wednesday's 4-1 win over Pittsburgh.
The Capitals won't miss facing Kovalchuk, who has accounted for 38 of the Thrashers' 144 goals this season. He has three goals and five assists in four games this season against Washington.
Ovechkin, meanwhile, has had plenty of success against Atlanta, tallying 16 goals and 16 assists in 20 games.
Rookie Tobias Enstrom scored on a power play with 18 seconds left in regulation, and Eric Perrin had the lone shootout goal to lift Atlanta to a 5-4 victory over Buffalo on Friday.
Mark Recchi, Jim Slater and Bobby Holik also scored in regulation for the Thrashers, winners of two straight following a five-game skid. Atlanta jumped over Washington into second place in the Southeast, two points in back of the Hurricanes.
Kari Lehtonen figures to be in net for the Thrashers after Johan Hedberg got the call Friday. Lehtonen is 0-3-0 with a 4.06 GAA in his last three starts against the Capitals.
These teams have split four meetings this season, each winning at home and on the road.