The Caps play the Thrashers tonight at Verizon Center in a Southeast Division Matchup that could give the Caps 4 points in the standings versus the Thrashers. Atlanta is 2-0 and the Caps 1-1 in the post All Star push to the playoffs. Additionally, while the Caps still have two games in hand on the Thrashers, the boys in blue from Atlanta are one point ahead of them in the Conference standings. Carolina continues to lead the SE division with 56 points in 54 games, Atlanta is in second in the division (10 th in the Eastern Conference) with 54 points in 54 games and the Caps are third in the division and 12th in the Conference with 53 points in 52 games. This past week, the first in the post All Star break push to the playoffs, has seen the majority of Southeast division teams elevate their level of play; Carolina and Atlanta are both 2-0, while the Caps and the Florida Panthers are 1-1, and the Tampa Bay Lightning 1-0 since the break. Eastern Conference playoff "bubble" teams are also playing hard since the scoring fest in Atlanta last week. The Bruins are 2-0, the Rangers 2-1, the Sabres 1-1 since play resumed while the Flyers are 1-1 on the Devils 0-2 this past week. Overall the Eastern Conference Playoff race remains a "free for all" and may actually be getting tighter. The Caps remain 5 points behind the conference eigth place Rangers and three points behind the division leading Hurricanes with two games in hand on each. The total point spread between the 13th place Florida Panthers (51 points) and 10 of the 12 teams in front of them is 9 points (the fifth place Pittsburgh Penguins have 60 points while the Hurricanes who are in third by virtue of leading the SE division have 56 points. With between 28 and 30 games to go the whole eastern conference playoff picture with the possible exception of Ottawa and Montreal continues in flux. In the last 37 days, Washington has played just one divisional game, a 5-3 win over Florida on Jan. 19. Beginning with today’s game against Atlanta, the Caps will play six of their next 10 games against Southeast Division opponents in a 22-day period. The tightly packed divisional standings change almost nightly, and Saturday’s classic four-point game shapes up as one of the most important the Caps have played to date this season.
The tight playoff race means tonight's SE conference matchup between the Caps and Thrashers should be a tough game. The season series between the two is tied 2-2. The key to both teams will be "depth scoring" the Thrashers will play without All Star forward Ilya Kovalchuk who is out this weekend with a knee injury. Last night the Thrashers beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 in a shootout win without their star and like the Caps have been surging. The Caps come into the game off a 5-4 overtime win against Montreal on Thursday night that saw a five point/four goal perfromance turned in by Alex Ovechkin despite playing with a broken nose much of the game. In nine games since signing a $124 million,13-year contract, Ovechkin has 11 goals and seven assists. Viktor Kozlov has benefited from his linemate's stellar play, collecting six goals and three assists in his last six games. With Kovalchuk out and barring the unlikely chance that Washington's "Great Eight" repeats his Thursday night performance, both teams will be looking for goals from their other key forwards, for Atlanta look for Marian Hossa, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Todd White Mark Recchi and Bobby Holik to try and "pick up" Kovy's slack. Over in the Caps lineup look for Nicklas Backstrom, Vicktor Kozlov, Alexander Semin Brooks Laich and Thomas Fleischman (and Mike Green if Shoane Morrison is back in the lineup) to try and contribute more offensive production then they have since the All Star break.
Possible Line Combos and Defensive Pairings
49-Stuart, 11-Perrin, 18-Hossa
21-Sterling, 12-White, 8-Recchi
13-S. Kozlov, 16-Holik, 9-Dupuis
36-Boulton, 23-Slater, 27-Thorburn
Goaltenders: 1-Hedberg, 32-Lehtonen
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 25-Kozlov
43-Fleischmann, 21-Laich, 28-Semin
53-Laing, 39-Steckel, 10-Bradley
87-Brashear, 15-Gordon, 18-Pettinger
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!