November 14 vs. Atlanta Thrashers at Verizon Center
Time: 5:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Atlanta Thrashers (7-7-3)
Washington Capitals (12-4-1)
A night after a 3-2 overtime loss to the Sabres in Buffalo, Washington concludes a busy week when it hosts the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday afternoon/evening at Verizon Center. The game against Atlanta is Washington’s fifth in a span of eight days. Both the Capitals and the Thrashers will be playing their second game in as many nights and their third in the last four.
The Caps went with rookie Braden Holtby in goal on Saturday in Buffalo. Making the first road start of his NHL career, the 21-year-old Holtby played a strong game to enable the Caps to come away with a point. Washington spent much of the night in the penalty box, taking three double-minors on the evening.
The Capitals had just one power play on Saturday in Buffalo; they’ve had a single man-advantage in each of their last two games. Washington had to face seven Sabres power play chances on Saturday night. Eleven of Buffalo’s total of 27 shots on goal for the night came while the Caps were shorthanded.
A Nicklas Backstrom double-minor for high-sticking gave the Sabres a power play for the final three minutes of regulation and the first minute of overtime. Holtby’s play – he made five saves during the Backstrom penalty – helped get the Caps to the extra session, but the Washington goalie missed a pokecheck attempt on Thomas Vanek late in the overtime session. Vanek tucked the puck into the vacant cage – his second goal of the game – to halt Washington’s winning streak at six straight.
Michal Neuvirth is expected to get the net for Washington on Sunday against the Thrashers. He is 4-1 in five career starts against Atlanta with a 2.60 GAA and a .924 save pct.
After a disappointing second-period performance in Saturday’s game against Buffalo, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau changed up all four of his forward lines for the third period. The changes resulted in some early energy and led to Nicklas Backstrom’s tying goal.
“The combinations that we had weren’t working so I knew if I had left them the same, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere,” says Boudreau. “So I had to do something. I didn’t know if it was going to work, but we got the goal, we got the point.
“I’m never satisfied without the two [points], but at the same time as long as it’s not a trend and we’re ready to bounce back [Sunday], if that’s as bad as we can be then that’s good.”
How the Caps will line up on Sunday against Atlanta is anyone’s guess.
“I have no idea how it sets us up,” says Boudreau. “We’ll just see where we go.”
Washington took three double-minors in Saturday’s game, putting the Caps on the penalty kill more frequently and for longer than they would have liked.
“Of course the players who played a lot [Saturday] are going to feel it a little bit in the beginning,” says Backstrom. “But we usually play back-to-backs, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Some games are like that. You don’t have a lot of power plays and you have more penalty killing. That’s something you’ve got to work through.”
The meeting between the Caps and the Thrashers is the third between the two clubs this season. Atlanta doused the Caps by a 4-2 score in the season opener for both teams on Oct. 8 at Philips Arena. Fifteen days later, the two clubs met again at Verizon Center. The Capitals exacted a measure of revenge in that one, taking a 4-3 overtime decision on the strength of an Alexander Semin hat trick.
Washington has won eight straight meetings between the Caps and the Thrashers at Verizon Center. Atlanta’s last win in the District was a 2-0 Kari Lehtonen shutout of the Caps on Feb. 2, 2008.
Atlanta comes to town on the heels of a 4-2 loss on home ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. The Thrashers ended a three-game skid (0-2-1) with a convincing 5-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday at Philips Arena. Atlanta is now 1-3-1 in its last five games.
Ondrej Pavelec started for Atlanta in Saturday’s game against the Penguins, and Chris Mason will get the call for the Thrashers on Sunday against the Caps.
Mason came on in relief of Pavelec when the latter frighteningly passed out early in the season opener. Mason earned the win over Washington that night but he was on the losing end in the Oct. 23 rematch between the Caps and Thrashers.
In his two outings against the Caps this season, Mason is 1-0-1 with a 3.04 GAA and a .920 save pct. In his career against Washington, Mason is 4-0-1 with a 2.25 GAA and a .924 save pct.
Like the Capitals, the Thrashers have benefited from offensive involvement from their blueline this season. Dustin Byfuglien, a blueliner by trade who frequently played on the wing during his days in Chicago, was obtained by Atlanta over the summer when the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks were forced to make some cost-cutting moves to stay within the league’s salary cap. Returned to his natural rearguard position with the Thrashers, Byfuglien is tied for the league lead in goals by a defenseman and is third in rearguard scoring.
Along with Pittsburgh, Detroit and Buffalo, Washington and Atlanta rank among the league’s top five teams in terms of total points by defensemen.
The Thrashers have allowed at least one power play goal in four straight games after having been flawless on the penalty kill in their previous half dozen contests. Atlanta is just 7-for-13 (53.8%) on the kill in its last four games.
Forward Bryan Little returned to the Atlanta lineup on Saturday after missing the previous half dozen games with a concussion.
Veteran winger Fredrik Modin left Saturday night’s game against Pittsburgh with an upper body injury and did not return. Atlanta center Jim Slater, who sat out Saturday’s game with the Pens, could be back in action on Sunday against the Caps.