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Thrashers try to turn things around as Capitals visit

by Brian Hunter /
CAPITALS (27-14-9) at THRASHERS (23-19-9)


Last 10:
Washington 4-2-4; Atlanta 3-4-3

Season series:
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.

Big story: 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.

Team Scope:

Capitals: 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."

Who's hot:
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.

Injury report:
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.

Stat pack: 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.

Puck drop:
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.

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