Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin has carried his team to the top of the Southeast Division with his spectacular play. The Atlanta Thrashers' Ilya Kovalchuk hasn't had the same effect on his club, but he's been just as productive as Ovechkin of late.
The NHL's two hottest scorers meet as the Capitals look to bounce back from a loss when they host the last-place Thrashers on Thursday night.
Washington has won three of the last four matchups with Atlanta, and will look to Ovechkin to help it get back on track as it concludes a season-high five-game homestand. The NHL leader with 44 goals and 79 points, Ovechkin has seven goals in the last six games and 20 points in his last 13.
He had a goal and an assist Tuesday night, but the Capitals (38-18-5) suffered their second loss in three games, 4-2 to Philadelphia. Ovechkin helped Washington to a two-goal lead, setting up Nicklas Backstrom's first-period goal and scoring in the second, but the Flyers' three-goal spurt in a 3:19 span of the third lifted them to the win.
"We got too involved with what they were doing, rather than what we have to do," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We played pretty hard for most of the night. We played pretty stupid a couple times."
Despite the defeat, Boudreau's team holds a 13-point lead in the Southeast and will look to continue taking advantage of the lowly Thrashers - something Ovechkin has done throughout his career.
The left wing has 23 goals and 44 points in 26 games versus Atlanta, his highest totals against any opponent. He has nine goals and six assists in his last eight matchups with the Thrashers, including the first of his three hat tricks this season in a 5-3 win Nov. 26.
Backstrom is on a seven-game point streak and has four goals and 13 assists in his last 12 games, but the Caps have been inconsistent offensively in going 1-2-0 in their last three. They totaled three goals in the two defeats but scored five in a victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Washington will be facing a Thrashers club that's in the midst of a rare strong stretch, going 3-1-1 in its last five. Atlanta (22-33-6) has 23 goals in that stretch after managing 16 in the previous nine games - thanks in large part to Kovalchuk.
The left wing has 10 goals in the last eight games. His six-game goal streak ended Saturday in a loss to San Jose, but he scored a first-period goal Tuesday night to help the Thrashers top Colorado 4-3.
Kovalchuk has 31 goals - in the top 10 in the league - and 33 assists on the season.
The Thrashers star has 20 goals and 27 assists in 39 games versus the Caps, although he hasn't recorded a goal in his last six games against them dating to Dec. 8, 2007. He's notched just five assists in that span.
Atlanta (22-33-6) has given up 214 goals this season, second-most in the league, and has allowed 18 goals in the last four meetings with Washington. The Thrashers built a 3-0 lead 11:20 into the game against Colorado before hanging on.
"I really think the guys are listening to what we ask because that will at least keep us in hockey games," coach John Anderson said. "In each of the last four or five (games overall), we've had to change our style a little, and they've done a great job in doing that."
The Capitals have won their last two home games against the Thrashers, whom they play four times in the final 21 contests.