If there's any team that may represent the greater challenge the Southeast Division provides for the Capitals this season, it's Atlanta. The hard-working Thrashers, against whom Washington has gone 14-4-2 over the past three seasons, have not yielded an inch against the three-time defending division winners in this season and defeated the Capitals for the third time this year, 3-1, on Saturday night.
Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who entered the year with a 1-8-0 career record against the Capitals, has allowed just one goal on 75 shots in the past two games against Washington. But in this latest contest, he got some help from the Capitals' shooters, who spent the bulk of their time on the outside of the offensive zone.
"He made some good saves," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Pavelec. "I'm not denying that he feels very comfortable, obviously, playing us. I don't think it was one of those games where he had to make a tremendous amount of second saves on the same play and that's what scores goals. If you look at the way they were playing, they might not have had the quality chances but when they did they had three guys going to the net and it's bang, bang, bang and you have to be ready to make the play."
Boudreau and the players were critical of their inability to test Pavelec and the Thrashers with second-chance shots and attempts from close around the net. Instead, they treated the game like target practice both at even strength and on the power play.
"If you look at the power play we'd have everybody just all in a circle looking to take one-timers and there was no second-shot capability," Boudreau said. "Usually when we've got the puck at the point we have a guy going to the net and we have options. Tonight I was looking and they're getting the puck at the point or the half-wall and everybody was just standing around hoping something was going to happen."
Said Alex Ovechkin: "I think after the first shot, we didn't find rebounds. We had lots of chances to find it but we didn't."
--Boudreau didn't want to discuss the officiating in a second-straight game and loss but there were a few instances that seemed a little off again tonight. Jason Chimera was the victim of a high-stick at least three times, once where it split his lip, requiring stitches. And an argument could have been made for an instigator penalty on Jim Slater when he started a fight with David Steckel after the latter collided with Tobias Enstrom, who left the game after falling to the ice on the play.
Regardless, the Thrashers' goal on the power play after Steckel's kneeing penalty certainly knocked the wind out of any Washington comeback hopes.
"We were up on ourselves after [Ovechkin's] goal," John Carlson said. "And then they came right back pretty quicklyl and I think it took a little life out of us."
--The Thrashers ended a nine-game losing streak at Verizon Center, winning in Washington for the first time since a 2-0 victory on Feb. 2, 2008. It was the Capitals' longest home winning streak in the series with Atlanta and longest against any opponent.
Saturday night's loss was just Washington's second regulation loss at home with the first coming on Oct. 19 against Boston. The Capitals are now 12-2-1 at Verizon Center.
--Washington was scheduled to have a day off Sunday but will now skate at 10:30 a.m. at KCI.