For the second time in as many weeks, Washington will spend its Thursday night going up against the Southeast Division rival Thrashers in Atlanta. The Caps will fly south for a quick one-game visit to Georgia before returning home for a two-game home run.
For their second trip to Atlanta in as many weeks, the Caps have tucked into the cargo area of the plane a five-game winning streak. That spree matches the team’s third longest run since Bruce Boudreau took over as head coach on Nov. 22, 2007. The Caps have had a pair of seven-game winning streaks during that span.
Washington has authored two consecutive come-from-behind victories, most recently taking a 4-2 win from Philadelphia at Verizon Center on Tuesday after spotting the Flyers a 2-0 second-period lead.
The reunited forward trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin accounted for all four of the goals but Caps goaltender Jose Theodore led the way, making 41 saves against Philly. Theodore made 20 of those stops – including a penalty shot stop on the Flyers’ Darroll Powe – in the third period with the game on the line. His .922 save pct. is third best in the NHL among all goalies with three or more starts.
“He has been awesome,” says Caps captain Chris Clark of Theodore. “The times that we do make mistakes, the times that we let pucks squeak into the slot, he’s been there to save them the last four games to keep us on the streak. He has been there to back us up and make the saves.”
In his last five games, Theodore is 2-1-1 with a 2.04 GAA and a .939 save pct. He is now 12-8 with a 2.78 GAA and a .911 save pct. lifetime against Philadelphia.
“It’s good,” says Theodore.”We’ve got a little something going here; that’s our fifth win [in a row] and we knew it was going to be a really tough one to start the week and it was. I think every time we play Philly it’s a one-goal game. It’s always fun to play against them, but it’s always tough.”
The usually physical Flyers were credited with just 10 hits on the night, six of them coming in the first period.
“We know that’s the type of game they like to play,” says Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz. “It seems the first period they like to try to run you out of the building and do whatever they can to push you around. But we held them off and started pushing them back. I think that really created some space for our players out there and we came out with the win.”
Tuesday’s triumph over the Flyers was the Caps’ second straight comeback from a two-goal deficit.
“It was great,” says Clark, “especially getting behind early. It kind of stung a little bit. But we had the poise, and he we had a lot of the game left to get back in it. It’s nice to win those games where you come back against a good team like that.”
With a 7-2-2 mark after 11 games, the Caps close out the October slate with their first set of back-to-back games this season. If they run the table, they’ll match the club record for wins in October. The 1991-92 Capitals posted a 9-3 record in the season’s first month.
“We’ve won a lot in a row now,” says Clark. “They weren’t our greatest games, but we have a good enough team to win the games where we don’t play well sometimes. But we don’t want to make a habit of it. It is something where we know if it happens, we can squeak them out and keep the ball rolling.”
The Thrashers are seeking to salvage something from a three-game homestand that began with Washington’s visit last Thursday. Atlanta has dropped a pair of one-goal decisions on the homestand, losing 5-4 to the Caps last Thursday and suffering a 4-3 setback to San Jose on Saturday.
After a 4-1 start to the 2009-10 season, Atlanta is now winless in its last three games (0-2-1).
Saturday’s loss to the Sharks also cost the Thrashers the services of their franchise goal scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk. The left wing suffered a broken bone in his right foot and he will be out of action for 3-5 weeks.
At the time of the injury, Kovalchuk was leading the NHL with nine goals in just eight games. The Russian star’s output accounted for nearly a third (nine of 28) of Atlanta’s offensive output prior to his injury.
Atlanta will now have to look to others to supplement the goal-scoring lost in Kovalchuk’s absence. Center Rich Peverley (five goals) and 18-year-old rookie Evander Kane (three) have contributed the most to the Atlanta attack aside from Kovalchuk.
The Thrashers will be seeking more from Nik Antropov (28 goals last season), Bryan Little (31 goals in 2008-09) and Slava Kozlov (26 goals last season). All three are still seeking their first goals of the 2009-10 campaign.
Atlanta has not been a prolific shooting team in the season’s first eight games. The Thrashers have yet to fire more than 28 shots on goal in any contest. Atlanta surrendered 30 or more shots on goal in each of its first six games this season, but has held its last two opponents below that mark.