It's Groundhog Day! Rise and shine, campers, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cold out there today.
For the second time in a couple of weeks, the Caps will face a high-powered offense missing its best player, this time an Ilya Kovalchuk-less Thrashers squad that coughed up a two-goal lead at home against Buffalo last night and needed to come back twice en route to a thrilling (I suppose) shootout victory.
By all pre-game indicators, the Caps should win tonight. They have a winning home record and Atlanta has a losing road record, score more and allow fewer goals than the Thrash, come in more rested (with a day off, the Caps are 13-9-3 on the season, while Atlanta is 1-8-1 in the second of back-to-back games), and are playing better hockey lately. Of course, they still have to go out, play the game, and turn "should" into "did."
We'll expect to see Kari Lehtonen in goal for the Thrash (Johan Hedberg went last night), which may be good news - on the season, Lehtonen is 0-2-0 with a 4.56 GAA and .866 save percentage against the Caps (his career numbers versus D.C., however, are much better).
The big question when it comes to goaltending, though, is who will be in net for the home team. Olie Kolzig got the start (and win) on Thursday night and is 1-1-0/4.01/.843 against Atlanta this season, while Brent Johnson is 1-0-1/1.48/.950 opposite the Thrashers on the campaign and 7-2-0/2.32/.918 in his career. To me, that puts the decision in No-Brainerville, but we'll wait and see what Bruce Boudreau thinks.
As for the "O"-ffense (as in Ovechkin), you probably know that Alex has scored more goals (16) and has more points (32) in his career against Atlanta than against any other opponent. You may not know that Matt Pettinger also has scored more goals (6) in his career against Atlanta than against any other team. With that in mind, I'm going big on a prediction - Petty gets on the board tonight. It is, after all, a new month.
With the Thrashers (and Florida) now tied with the Caps in the crowded Southeast, this game is yet another biggie, a four-pointer within the Division. If the Caps are going to make the playoffs, they've gotta win the games they've gotta win, and this certainly is one of those. Barring an early burst from the visitors, expect the younger, bigger and better-rested Caps to take the two points on Saturday night.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
The Sports Junkies were guests of Ted Leonsis last night and talked (a little bit) about the experience on air yesterday (the second 2/1 Seg 2).... Garrett's got some info on a Caps Meet n' Greet.... Check out this sweet game-winning goal from last night's North Dakota/Minnesota game (and note a brief cameo by Caps prospect Joe Finley as the Sioux head off the ice).
- Hart: Manny Legace (30-save shootout shutout win)
- Ross: 12 players tied with 2 points each
- Norris: Tobias Enstrom (Game-tying goal with :18 seconds left, A, +2)
- Vezina: Manny Legace (30-save shootout shutout win)
- Richard: Chris Drury (2G)
- Calder: Tobias Enstrom (see above)
- Aiken: Jocelyn Thibault (Shootout loss, twice surrendered a third period lead and allowed 2 goals on 9 shots against in 25 minutes of work)