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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Thursday, October 22nd (All times eastern)

Washington Capitals (4-2-2) at Atlanta Thrashers (4-1-1), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - It's no surprise that the Capitals are the early front- runners in the Southeast Division. What is a bit more unanticipated is that the Thrashers are right there with them.

Washington opens up division play tonight with a road test in Atlanta at Philips Arena.

The Capitals have won back-to-back Southeast titles and held an 11-point edge over the second-place Hurricanes at regular season's end last year. They also finished 32 points in front of the Thrashers, who turned in their second fourth-place finish in a row since winning the division in 2006-07.

Led by the NHL's leading scorer Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals have gained at least a point in six of their first eight games this year (4-2-2). That has them one point in front of the Thrashers, who have won four of their first six to start the season.

Ovechkin led Washington to a pair of points on Saturday, scoring two goals in regulation for a second straight game before netting the lone shootout goal in a 3-2 home victory over Nashville.

Semyon Varlamov made 22 stops in regulation for the Capitals, who have won two in a row after dropping four straight.

"I was happy we could get two points, they're important points," said Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with nine goals and 16 points.

Ovechkin will likely be without fellow countryman Alexander Semin tonight due to illness, while defenseman Shaone Morrisonn is questionable due to a lower- body injury. John Erskine (hand) and Boyd Gordon (back) are also both close to returning, but aren't expected to play tonight.

That shouldn't matter to Ovechkin, who has 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists) in 30 career games versus Atlanta. That includes three goals and six helpers in the six meetings last year.

The Capitals won four of those six meetings, but lost two of three in Atlanta. Washington has lost four of its last six trips to Philips Arena overall.

Atlanta is coming off a 2-1 shootout loss to Montreal on Tuesday. Colby Armstrong scored in regulation and Ondrej Pavelec made 34 saves, but was beaten twice in the final frame while the Thrashers failed to score.

"Every time you step on the ice, you're looking for a win, We got one point tonight," said Pavelec. "It was up and down. They could have won and we could have as well."

The loss wrapped up a 3-1-1 road trip for Atlanta, which will play its next three games at home. That includes an October 29 game versus the Capitals following Saturday's test with the Sharks.

10/22 10:39:35 ET

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