CAPS GAME NIGHT--GAME 80: The Caps Go Down to Georgia

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, April 07, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (48-23-8-104, first in Southeast, second in East) travel to Atlanta to meet the Thrashers (34-39-6-74, fourth in Southeast) looking to complete a home-and-home sweep and get the season-ending three-game road trip started on the right foot.

Washington needs to win two of their last three games to hit 50 wins for only the second time in franchise history.

The Capitals hold a two-point advantage over the New Jersey Devils for second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Devils host Toronto tonight.

Washington holds the season record over Atlanta at three games to two, however, the Caps have been throttled in Atlanta this season, losing both games by a combined score of 12-5.

Alex Ovechkin continues his quest for a second straight scoring championship, entering play tonight with 106 points (55 goals, 51 assists), trailing Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin by just two points. Ovie has historically performed well at Atlanta's Phillips Arena (14 goals and 11 assists in 14 games), but has been held scoreless in the two games this season.

Washington has won three of its last four games while scoring at least five goals in each victory, so it seems they have regained their scoring touch coming down the stretch. The Caps netted six goals Sunday without Ovechkin, though he did assist on Keith Aucoin's power play goal in the 6-4 victory.

Secondary scoring was the key to Sunday's win, and it was something missing from the team's arsenal through March. Aucoin, Tomas Fleischmann, Michael Nylander and Eric Fehr all scored, in addition to Alexander Semin (31 goals) and Brooks Laich (20 goals).

Fleischmann has 18 goals for the season, but just three since mid-January. He broke a 14-game scoreless drought.

Aucoin, recently recalled from AHL Hershey, has changed the dynamic of the third line since his recall. His smallish stature belies his fierceness in forechecking, and he's brought some much needed energy. His play was rewarded with some power play time in the most recent contest.

Nylander, much maligned all season, perhaps played his finest game all season, playing with a determination that has seemed to be missing for long stretches.

Simeon Varlamov is expected to play tonight, giving Jose Theodore a much-needed day off. Varlamov is auditioning for the chance to back up Theo in the playoffs, as Brent Johnson inches closer to his possible return. Johnson practiced with the team yesterday in full gear and he hopes to be able to contribute come playoff time.

Donald Brashear is listed as doubtful and will probably miss his 12th straight game.

Atlanta is led by Ilya Kovalchuk (42-48-90, minus-12) and Slava Kozlov (26-48-74, minus-11). Johan Hedberg (13-11-3, 3.51, .885) is expected to start in goal.

WAS: PP-2nd (25.3%, 83/328); PK-19th (80.3%, 74/375)
ATL: PP-12th (19.5%, 66/339); PK-29th (75.6%, 86/352)

WAS: G Brent Johnson (Hip-IR); LW Donald Brashear (Knee-IR); C Boyd Gordon (Finger-IR); RW Chris Clark (Wrist-IR); LW Quintin Laing (Spleen-Out)

ATL: G Kari Lehtonen (Upper body-Questionable); D Anssi Salmela (Face-Questionable)