The Washington Capitals will take on the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on Thursday night (7pm on Comcast SportsNet) and they may be without right wing Alexander Semin (10 points in eight games), who is battling an illness. The Thrashers are off to a sizzling 4-1-1 start and they are a team that gave Washington fits last season, defeating the Caps two of three times in Hotlanta during the 2008-09 campaign. This is the Caps first Southeast Division game of the regular season.
The Thrashers are led by Ilya Kovalchuk, who is one of the top players in the world, and he has seven goals and one assist in their first six contests. Centers Rich Peverly (4 goals, 4 assists) and Bryan Little (5 assists), who played well against Washington last season, are forwards that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and his club will need to be wary of. The 4th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, forward Evander Kane, has two goals and two assists so far, and the Thrashers also have Nik Antropov (Toronto and Rangers last season) and Maxim Afingenov (Buffalo last year) as threats up front.
On defense, Atlanta has the young, speedy, and talented Zach Bogosian (1st round, 3rd overall in 2008 NHL Entry Draft), Tobias Enstrom (five assists), and Pavel Kubina (four assists and a heavy shot!). In net Ondrej Pavelec (2nd round of 2005 NHL Entry Draft) is 3-1-1 with a .929 save percentage and Johan Hedberg is just 1-0 (40 saves vs. Buffalo last Saturday).
The first eight games of the Caps season have been against tough opponents (6 of 8 were versus 2008-09 playoff teams) and this one figures to be a difficult win as well. Kovalchuk is a guy who feasts on the power play and turnovers so staying out of the penalty box and making smart decisions with the puck is important for Washington. Semyon Varlamov is the likely goalie for the Caps with Jose Theodore still battling a sore back. Varlamov was in net for the Caps only win in Atltanta last season (4-2 on April 7th).
Notes: Alexander Ovechkin leads the NHL and the Caps with 16 points in just eight games and he is +9 overall…defenseman Milan Jurcina is +6 which is tied with Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble for second in that category on the team…forward Michael Nylander was sent to Grand Rapids of the AHL for a conditioning stint but unfortunately this will not provide any salary cap relief for Washington..Keith Aucion will likely be recalled from Hershey for the Thrashers game with Semin out, Boyd Gordon still nursing a bad back, and Nylander not in the mix at all (in fact two forwards from the Bears may be necessary)…Left wing Tomas Fleischmann (who is finally skating again), Jurcina, assistant coach Dean Evason and Slapshot will visit Lake Ridge Middle School in Woodbridge, Va., at 1:45 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 26. They are participating in the Capitals Hockey School program presented by Chevy Chase Bank and will be directing a floor hockey session with 150 seventh-grade students.
The Chicago Blackhawks, who lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals last season, are off to a 5-2-1 start through eight games heading into Wednesday’s tilt with Vancouver but former Caps goalie Cristobal Huet is not playing well going 2-2 with a pitiful .844 save percentage. Goalie Antii Niemi is 3-0 with a .912 save percentage so he received the start against the Canucks on Wednesday.
Anybody catch the Islanders 4-3 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night which gave them their first victory of the season? Forward John Tavares, the 1st overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, notched the winning tally in the shootout with a gem of a move on Cam Ward (who failed to stop all three New York attempts). The Islanders, with Tavares, are more fun to watch now and he is what could save that franchise. New York is 1-3-3 overall. While riding up the elevator with Devils GM Lou Lamoriello at the Verizon Center last week I mentioned the prospects of the Islanders getting a new building to replace the broken down Nassau Coliseum and the three time Stanley Cup winning GM said, assuredly, “They will.” So there is more good news for you Islanders fans.
Guess who is the last remaining team to not win a game in the NHL this season? The Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are 0-6-1 and look lost on the ice. Last week on Hockey Night in Canada Radio (hosted by Jeff Marek) the job security of Ron Wilson was discussed and Elliotte Friedman thought that there was no way GM Brian Burke would make that move given that the head coach is a good friend of Burke’s plus, let’s face it, that forward roster is not very good. The Leafs will get the talented Phil Kessel in the lineup, who was acquired at a steep price from Boston before the season started, once his shoulder heals. Toronto needs to get some better goaltending as well.
Injury news: Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar is out 4 to 6 weeks due to a broken wrist..Bruins forward Marc Savard is out 4 to 6 weeks with a fractured bone in his foot…Nashville captain Jason Arnott is out with an arm injury.