November 19 vs. Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena
Time: 7:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 pm on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (14-4-1)
Atlanta Thrashers (7-9-3)
Two nights after a 3-2 home ice win over the Buffalo Sabres, the Caps head back to the road where they will play three of their next four games. First stop is Atlanta, where the Caps will face the Southeast Division rival Thrashers on Friday night.
With a win on Friday, Washington would forge the best record through the season’s first 20 games in franchise history. The 1991-92 edition started the campaign with a 15-5 mark.
Washington’s 2010-11 season opened exactly six weeks ago against the Thrashers in Atlanta. The Caps came up on the short end of a 4-2 score in that game, which seems like ancient history in a lot of ways. The Capitals are currently 8-0-1 in their last nine games. They’ve scored four or more goals in seven of the nine games, averaging 4.67 tallies per game in the process.
The Capitals hold a nine-point lead over second-place Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division standings and a three-point advantage over Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference standings.
Despite being on pace for a second straight 120-point season – a feat accomplished by exactly one team previously in league history – some in the media have been critical of the team’s play even in its victories.
“We’re 14-4-1,” declares Boudreau. “It seems like an awful lot of people are trying to put us down for being the best team in the league at this stage. Every time you turn on the TV it’s the same thing.”
Washington won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2009-10 as the league’s top regular season team, but none of the Caps aspired to that achievement then, nor do they this season. The Capitals’ singular focus is winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Even in November, the Caps are committed to playing a style of game that is conducive to winning when it matters most, in the playoffs.
“Obviously we’re happy with the record,” says right wing Matt Bradley of the team’s performance to date. “Bruce talked about it a couple of days ago. No matter how we play – whether we play the right way or the wrong way – we’re going to win a lot of games because we have so many guys with so much skill that we can get away with it during the regular season.
“I think the key with us is how we win, and not winning only. We have to play more playoff-style games, as far as good defensive play and getting the puck deep, because you can get away with playing other ways during the regular season but you can’t do that in the playoffs. It’s something we have to work on all year and it’s going to take time.
“I thought [Wednesday] night we played well in the third; we kind of shut it down a bit. But we had some lapses in the second. It’s an ongoing process and it’s definitely something we have to work on.”
Coming off that Presidents’ Trophy season, the Caps have picked up right where they left off at the end of the last regular season. And they’ve done so with a pair of rookie netminders doing most of the goaltending, a pair of young defensemen playing together every night and a 20-year-old center skating in half of their first 18 games.
“We like the way we think we’re getting better most games,” says Boudreau. “We won and played a pretty bad game maybe against Atlanta, but everything else has been a pretty consistent game. And if you look at the competition we’ve played and we’ve been successful – who’s to know what’s going to happen [Friday] – I like where we are. And I like the direction we’re going.”
Atlanta opened up a six-game homestand with a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night. The loss dropped the Thrashers to 2-4-1 against Southeast Division foes this season.
Friday’s game is Washington’s second against the Thrashers this week; the Caps won a 6-4 barnburner against Atlanta at Verizon Center this past Sunday.
Having turned over half their roster and with a new general manager (Rick Dudley) and head coach (Craig Ramsay) in place, the Thrashers got off to a respectable 6-4-2 start.
Since starting November with a 4-3 win over Florida, however, the Thrashers are 1-5-1. They’ve been outscored 26-18 in those seven contests.
In Wednesday’s loss to the Panthers, the Thrashers lost defenseman Dustin Byfuglien to a lower body injury late in the first period. He did not return to the lineup.
Byfuglien is tied for the league lead among defensemen with five goals and is tied for fourth among rearguards in scoring with 16 points. He averages just under 21 and a half minutes a night for the Thrashers.
On Thursday, the Thrashers named Andrew Ladd their team captain. One of four players acquired from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks over the summer, Ladd was Carolina’s first choice (fourth overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He also won the Cup as a rookie with the Hurricanes in 2006.
Atlanta named Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom as its alternate captains.
The Thrashers will go with Ondrej Pavelec in goal against Washington on Friday. Despite a 1-4-2 record, Pavelec has an impressive 2.33 GAA and a .928 save pct. this season.
Pavelec came on in relief of starter Chris Mason in Sunday’s Washington win over Atlanta. Pavelec stopped 15 of the 16 shots he faced in nearly 37 minutes of work on Sunday, but was saddled with the setback nonetheless.
Lifetime, Pavelec is 1-8 with a 3.91 GAA and an .879 save pct. against the Capitals.