Washington Capitals @ Atlanta Thrashers
Washington: 14-4-1, 29 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 20-15-25, and Alexander Semin, 14-11-25, in 19 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.1%
Notable injuries/illnesses: C Boyd Gordon, G Semyon Varlamov, D Tom Poti
Starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (12-3-0, 2.56, .912), though look for Braden Holtby (2-0-1, 2.22, .911) to get the start
Player to watch: LW Alex Ovechkin
Atlanta: 7-9-3, 17 points
Leading scorer: Andrew Ladd, 7-11-18 in 19 GP)
Tied Fenwick% last season: 49.2%
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Dustin Byfuglien, F Freddy Modin, F Eric Boulton, F Patrice Cormier
Starting goalie: Chris Mason (6-5-1, 3.90, .897), though Ondrej Pavelec (1-4-2, 2.33, .928) is playing much better as of late
Player to watch: D Tobias Enstrom
Atlanta 4 vs Washington 2 (10/8)
Washington 4 vs Atlanta 3 (OT) (10/23)
Washington 6 vs Atlanta 4 (11/14)
Atlanta is coming off a tough 2-1 loss to Florida, while the Caps got the better of their opposing elite backstopper, winning 4-2 over Buffalo.
1) Can Atlanta stop the Caps' attack? With Dustin Byfuglien out of the lineup, the Thrashers don't look to have two pairings good enough to keep up with the Caps' top two lines. Zach Bogosian and Johnny Oduya should draw the Ovechkin matchup, and Tobias Enstrom will have to anchor the second pairing against Laich and possibly Semin and even Backstrom as well. Yikes. That being said, Enstrom is a terrific puck mover and with two-way forwards like Andrew Ladd and Alexander Burmistrov playing in front of him might be able to play good enough of a puck possession game to mitigate the Caps' huge advantage in personnel.
2) Back in a Flash. As far as I can remember, the last two times Tomas Fleischmann was benched he responded with strong games in his comebacks (the second with several months in between). If he's in, look for his line to have a big, opportune night.
3) Draw penalties. This is getting old. The hallmark of an elite team is that it draws lots of penalties (among other things) compared to how many it takes. Well, the Caps are on the wrong side of that ledger. I think they haven't even drawn five penalties in the last three games. Keep moving your feet and forecheck hard. Play responsibly with the puck and be patient. Use the power plays to put the knife to their throats.
4) Third line in. Against Buffalo the Caps' line of Chimera-Steckel-Bradley was phenomenal, topping the Corsi charts. If they click like that on every night the Capitals will have at worst a 50/50 chance to win. That's the sort of strong play from the "plumbers" that any team loves to have.
5) Getting back the MoJo. Marcus Johansson on Wednesday night got killed in Corsi, and actually has been all season, pretty much. Alex Ovechkin got killed along with Johansson, and has been relatively poor in Corsi as well this season. Regardless of what the lower lines do, the Ovechkin line--with or without Johansson--is the single most important forward line to the Capitals' success. Hopefully Ovechkin rebounds well (though this story is getting old).
Can Alex Ovechkin have two terrible games in a row? I doubt it, and I think he'll be pretty good. But can the depth have two stellar games in a row? I doubt that too. Thrashers 5, Capitals 3.