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Caps look to end trend

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The Washington Capitals have played Atlanta four times this season and lost all four.

Heading into tonight's game in Atlanta, the fifth of the teams' eight regular-season meetings, the Capitals look to reverse that trend.

Might there be changes? Probably not.

"You can't walk in there and totally play a different style of hockey or change all your lines," Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. "We feel they've had a lot of success in small bits -- they've scored in bunches on a couple of occasions; they've come back in the third period when we've had leads. Their top players have played extremely well against us."

The Caps have had chances to win all four games against Atlanta. In the first, on Oct. 14, Washington sent the game to overtime only to lose 4-3 on an Ilya Kovalchuk goal.

In the rematch five days later, the Caps lost 4-3 in a shootout after holding the lead with just 33 seconds remaining in regulation.

The third meeting, a 4-3 loss, came with Atlanta scoring three goals in less than four minutes to overtake a 2-0 Caps lead. That story was repeated in the fourth meeting, this time with Atlanta scoring three goals in less than seven minutes to win 4-2.

As a result, what could be a first-place Capitals team had they held on to those four games is now eight points behind front-running Atlanta in the Southeast Division. There are several games the Caps could have won but lost, though, including five shootouts. Coach Hanlon doesn't see it that way.

"You can say we should have had three of the shootouts but you can also say we shouldn't have won the game in Tampa Bay when Olie [Kolzig] made 50 saves," Hanlon said. "We've made some mistakes, we've done some things very well. Shootouts are a part of the game and we're not executing. We get what we deserve. We're sitting among a bunch of teams playing for the playoffs. That's where we should be."

Hanlon won't say tonight's game, an intra-division affair, means any more than a game against any team out of the division or conference.

"I've tried to stay away from that four-point game talk or that this is a bigger game than when you play a Western team," he said. "We're trying to get to 94 points, that's our goal. If it's two points against Atlanta, that's great. Wherever they come, however they come, home or on the road, fine.

"From the coach on out, we're an emotional group. We're fired up enough for most games, we can't say this is a bigger game than when we played Anaheim. We know we can't get off the pace; we don't want to be in a situation where we have to win 10 in a row. That's a pretty tall order for us."

Hanlon said "it's definitely media and fans" who have an interest in keeping alive what happened in prior games, specifically the brawl in the last Atlanta-Washington game. Twenty-six penalties were called with 146 penalty minutes, seven ejections, three suspensions and fines for Hanlon ($30,000) and Atlanta coach Bob Hartley ($10,000).

"I have zero interesting in bringing that up," Hanlon said.

Notes -- Richard Zednik has been out since the second period of the Buffalo game Dec. 2 but the team is reluctant to update the status of his groin injury. He is listed as week-to-week, fueling speculation he has had or needs surgery. ...

Defenseman Jamie Heward (facial laceration) said he is ready when needed. ...

Washington draft picks Patrick McNeill and Mathieu Perreault were cut from the Canadian National Junior tryout camp.

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