[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]
If the Caps could pick an opponent for tonight's game, they'd no doubt choose to host one of the League's worst teams with that team coming off a physical road win the night before. So when they welcome the Atlanta Thrashers (fresh off a win in Toronto in which even Ilya Kovalchuk dropped the mittens) to the VC tonight, the 'quality of competition' excuse will officially be off the table before the opening puck drops - if the Caps lose tonight, it won't be to the better team, regardless of how many Hershey Bears are in the lineup for the boys in red.
Atlanta, prior to last night's out-pouring of offense, was 18th in the League in goals per game, 29th in goals against per game, and had the League's third-worst penalty kill. And yet here's a stat that will make any Division rival take notice of the Thrash in a hurry - they're currently 4-0-2 against Southeast foes, a mark, of course, that includes a 7-4 Opening Night win against their opponents on this Thanksgiving Eve game.
The Thrashers will likely start Ondrej Pavalec in net after playing Johan Hedberg last night (Kari Lehtonen, you'll be utterly shocked to find out, is currently injured). Pavelec is 2-2-0/2.32/.913 on the season, and was fantastic in a 2-1 overtime win last season in what has been the only time he has faced the Caps to date. The Caps haven't yet announced a starter, but both Jose Theodore (1-1-1/4.26/.867 in his last three) and Brent Johnson (0-2-0/5.05/.831 in his last two) got lit up by Atlanta back in October, and neither has given up fewer than three goals in a game since the last time the team was home (where they still have not lost in regulation), six games ago. Flip a coin and hope that a depleted defense actually helps out whomever's between the pipes.
Given the proximity to Turkey Day and the opponent, one can't help but be reminded of the 5-1 drubbing the Thrash handed the Caps amid prescient chants of "Fire Hanlon" raining down from the rafters last year at this time. One year later, regardless of how tonight's game turns out, Caps fans have plenty to be thankful for tomorrow. But two points tonight will sure make that pumpkin pie taste all the sweeter, won't it?
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Another translation (and a new website) for TuvanHillbilly.... Sweet photo of Michal Neuvirth from his 36-save shutout of Mississippi on Sunday night (h/t StP)... Brett Leffler is off to a good start for Regina.... Finally, if you want to hear me talk Caps with a guy whose silky smooth voice makes me sound even more like a stuttering 14-year-old than normal, I did a spot on the Dobber Nation Radio Show earlier in the week (and thanks again to those guys for having me on).