Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This – Tonight was the second game of a six-game homestand for the Atlanta Thrashers, and the team’s first game after announcing their new captain (Andrew Ladd) and alternates (Toby Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien). To a man, the Thrashers were upset about the way they’d played in the homestand opener on Wednesday in a 2-1 loss to the Panthers. To a man, they vowed they’d come out harder and be better in their next game.
Mired in a 1-5-1 stretch of hockey after a 6-4-2 start, the Thrashers were in need of a strong rebound performance tonight against the Caps and they got it. Atlanta took the Caps down, 5-0.
Ondrej Pavelec made 29 stops in the Atlanta nets to record his third career shutout while Ben Eager, Nik Antropov and Evander Kane each contributed a goal and an assist to the Atlanta cause.
Making his third NHL start, Caps goaltender Braden Holtby was dented for three goals on just five shots in a span of 5:25. Although one or two of the goals could be seen as fluky, Holtby took ownership of all three, and admitted he knew the hook was coming after the third Atlanta tally.
“I knew it,” says Holtby. “Whenever you go down 3-0 right away, you’re looking for a change of momentum or something. I wasn’t happy with any of those three goals. It was the right move. I wasn’t happy with my game today, and I will make sure I’m better next time.”
Washington outshot the Thrashers 12-7 in the first frame and held a 16-7 shots advantage at one point in the second period. But the Thrashers never allowed the Caps to get back in the game, and they took 29 of the game’s final 42 shots on goal.
“I thought in the first period we were playing pretty good,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “Holtsy struggled as some young guys do, and once we got in the hole [the Thrashers] had a lot of confidence and they kept playing well. Every time we tried to make a push, they beat it back and they scored goals at opportune times.”
Down 3-0, the Capitals had a power play late in the first and another midway through the second. But Washington was unable to muster as much as a shot on goal with those two man-advantage chances.
“I was standing in front,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “They did a good job. I couldn’t even see the puck at the point, so it means their guys are in the lanes. And teams are smart; they’re not taking four or five penalties against us. They’re only giving us one or two looks a game. As a power play unit, sometimes it’s tough to get in a rhythm when that happens.
“Our team usually goes as our power play goes. When we score on the power play, we end up scoring four or five goals in the game, usually. We didn’t score any tonight, consequently we didn’t score any goals.”
Dustin Byfuglien’s goal in the final minute of the second made it 4-0, and it sealed Washington’s fate.
“I thought their fourth goal was sort of a killer,” says Boudreau. “Knowing our team, I thought we had a chance any time with three goals down. But we didn’t play well enough to win.”
That tally came seconds after the Caps’ Alexander Semin narrowly missed the net on a 2-on-1 rush with Alex Ovechkin, a shot that would have cut the Atlanta lead to 3-1.
“You’ve got to hit the net,” laments Boudreau. “You’ve got a 2-on-1, you’ve got to hit the net. And they come down and they score. A couple of our defensemen I thought had real rough nights. And that happens. In the third period, I just didn’t think we competed hard enough to get back in the game.”
The loss was the first of Holtby’s NHL career.
“Even if I would have played good tonight, I’m not really sure if I knew when my next game would be. My rule of thumb since I’ve been growing up is to never have two bad games in a row. I’m looking forward to the next one already. There are some things I am going to have to work on in preparation and some technical things I will have to do better next time.”
Banged Up – Caps forward Mike Knuble left the game in the second period after apparently taking a puck up high. He did not return, and after the game, Boudreau was asked about Knuble’s condition.
“He’s got an upper body injury,” says Boudreau. “He’ll be out for a little while from what I’ve gathered.”
Streak Stopped – Semin’s scoring streak came to a halt at nine games. He had nine goals and 17 points during the life of the streak. Semin does have a streak of a different kind going, he has played the first 20 games of an NHL season consecutively for the first time in his career.
First – The Thrashers have now scored the game’s first goal in five of their last six games.
Four Score – Tonight’s game marked the 17th time in the last 18 meetings between the Capitals and the Thrashers that one or both teams scored at least four goals in the game.
Long Time Coming – On Nov. 6, 2007, Pavelec made his second NHL start here at Philips Arena, facing the visiting Capitals. He stopped 31 of 32 Washington shots to earn a 2-1 win, also his second in the NHL. Michael Nylander netted the lone Capitals goal and Chris Bourque made his NHL debut for Washington in that game.
Fast forward more than three years and Pavelec has now earned his second career win against the Caps, raising his career mark to 2-8 against Washington.
In between those two victories against the Caps, Pavelec faced Washington 10 times, making eight starts. He posted a 4.30 GAA and an .868 save pct. vs. the Capitals during that span.
Pavelec’s shutout win over Washington was the first by an Atlanta netminder against the Caps since Kari Lehtonen pitched a 2-0 whitewash at Verizon Center on Feb. 2, 2008.
It had been more than nine years since an Atlanta goaltender blanked the Capitals at Philips Arena. The immortal Milan Hnilicka earned a 1-0 shutout win over Washington on Oct. 26, 2001.
Tonight’s shutout loss was Washington’s first since Dec. 9, 2009 when Buffalo’s Ryan Miller blanked the Caps, 3-0. It was Washington’s worst shutout loss since Nov. 1, 2008 when Miller whitewashed the Caps, 5-0.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears headed up to Binghamton for a Friday night date with the Baby Sens. The game marked the return of Sheldon Souray to the Bears’ lineup for the first time since Oct. 23.
Because of injuries, the Bears played tonight’s game with 11 forwards.
Hershey fell into a 2-0 first-period hole, but rallied to tie it on a Boyd Kane power play goal (his seventh goal of the season) in the first and an Andrew Joudrey marker (his second) in the second period.
Binghamton won it on Bobby Butler’s 14th of the season early in the third and it got a late empty-netter to seal the deal in the game’s final minute.
The Bears return home to face Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday and Hartford on Sunday.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays hosted the Gwinnett Gladiators on Friday. The hosts forged an early 3-0 lead, and they held on for a 4-3 triumph.
David de Kastrozza had a pair of goals and an assist to lead the South Carolina offense, and 2005 Caps first-rounder Joe Finley chipped in with an assist.
Todd Ford stopped 25 of the 28 shots he faced to earn the victory.
The Rays remain home at North Charleston Coliseum on Saturday for a rematch with Gwinnett and a meeting with Wheeling on Sunday.
By The Numbers – Only four Washington skaters – Knuble, Nicklas Backstrom, Karl Alzner and John Carlson – escaped the night without a minus next to their names on the game’s official scoresheet … Tyler Sloan was minus-4 while John Erskine and Alexander Semin were both minus-3 … Ovechkin (22:40) was the only Washington forward to log more than 20 minutes in ice time … Jeff Schultz led the Caps with five hits and Sloan paced the Capitals with three blocked shots … A game after having his best night in the circle this season, rookie center Marcus Johansson was 1-for-8 (13%) on draws. David Steckel (9-for-13, 69%) was the Capitals’ top face-off man against the Thrashers.
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