CAPITALS (27-14-9) at THRASHERS (23-19-9)
TV: RIS, CSN-DC (HD), FS-S (HD)
Washington 4-2-4; Atlanta 3-4-3
If the Capitals and Thrashers meet again this season, it'll be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- this is the sixth and final scheduled matchup between these Southeast Division rivals. With the exception of Atlanta's 3-1 win in Washington on Dec. 4, the home team has had its way to this point.
Both teams could use the upcoming five days off to heal some of the banged-up bodies on their rosters. Braden Holtby
has started the last three games for the Capitals with fellow rookies Michal Neuvirth
and Semyon Varlamov ailing, while the Thrashers were dealt a blow Tuesday with the announcement All-Star defenseman Tobias Enstrom will miss 2-4 weeks after breaking a finger on his right hand.
Regardless of which young goalie Washington has relied on this season, each has given the Capitals a great chance to win the majority of nights. Holtby has allowed just a single goal in each of his past three starts, and the team beat the Islanders and Maple Leafs before coming up short in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Rangers on Monday. Matt Hendricks
put the Caps ahead in the second period, but Marian Gaborik drew the visitors even with 6:41 left in the third and they victimized Holtby three times in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.
"NHL shootouts are a lot harder, obviously," said Holtby, who has been in the AHL most of the season. "It's not something you get to practice because when they clean the ice it's a lot more slippery and you usually practice shootouts at the end of practice when it's all chewed up."
If Atlanta wants to guarantee itself a spot in the top eight heading into the month of February, two points on Wednesday would do that. Even more important for the Thrashers is just re-establishing some positive momentum. They've lost seven of their last eight (though three of the defeats have come in overtime or the shootout), which has allowed the ninth-place Hurricanes to close within a single point in the playoff race. Sunday's 7-1 loss in Tampa Bay was especially demoralizing, as Nate Thompson's shorthanded goal 14 seconds in sparked a five-goal second period for the Lightning.
"We lost our composure after they scored that shorthanded goal. That just turned everything. … We just imploded from there," coach Craig Ramsay said. "It was very disappointing. They smelled some blood and attacked."
Holtby has a .963 save percentage for the Capitals since being recalled from Hershey, stopping 77 of 80 shots. Hendricks has a goal in consecutive games.
The leading scorers for each team in this series are expected to be out, as Alexander Semin
(4-2-6) is on injured reserve for Washington with a hip injury and Evander Kane (5-2-7) of Atlanta has been battling a lower-body injury.
Varlamov, Neuvirth and defenseman Tom Poti
are also day-to-day for the Capitals with lower-body injuries, while forwards Matt Bradley (broken finger) and Eric Fehr (shoulder) remain out of the lineup. … In addition to Enstrom, Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd (lower body) is day-to-day, while goalie Chris Mason (knee) and forward Jim Slater (concussion) are on injured reserve.
Holtby's win against the Rangers made the Capitals the first team in NHL history to have three goalies 22 or younger with four or more victories. … Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec has an 0.75 goals-against average and .978 save percentage in four appearances against the Capitals this season.
Atlanta used an opening night win over Washington to get off to a fast start and has a 3-1-1 mark against the three-time defending Southeast champs this season, so maybe seeing the Capitals again will be the tonic the Thrashers need to get going.