- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

The injury-riddled Washington Capitals had to integrate four new players Wednesday night, but they still had a healthy Alex Ovechkin.

Buoyed by a four-point night from Ovechkin, including his sixth career hat trick, the Caps disposed of the Atlanta Thrashers 5-3 in front of a sellout crowd at Verizon Center to erase a three-game losing streak.

With the win, the Caps remain on top of the Southeast Division and remain the only team in the Eastern Conference undefeated in regulation at home (8-0-1).

“This year we want to be a dominant team at home,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We want to make other teams go, ‘Uh oh, we’re going into Washington.’”

Ovechkin leads the Caps with 29 points, but his big night was overshadowed a bit by the new guys, including 2007 first-round pick Karl Alzner, who made his NHL debut. The fifth overall pick in that draft and consensus top prospect in the organization logged 21:06 of ice time, most among the team’s defensemen.

Both defenseman Sami Lepisto and rugged forward Graham Mink made their season debuts, while Chris Bourque was back for a second time.

“I thought especially in the first period, we needed [their energy],” Boudreau said. “I thought they were all pretty good. We needed the energy because there were flat times during the game where we were still almost on jet lag.”

Ovechkin had some help from one of the new additions to open the scoring. The reigning league MVP one-timed a point-to-point pass from Lepisto on the power play 3:29 into the first period.

Eric Fehr made it 2-0 on a fancy tic-tac-toe passing display. Michael Nylander knocked the puck forward out of the defensive zone, which set off a three-on-one break for the Caps. The puck pinballed from Tomas Fleischmann to Fehr to Nylander to Fleischmann and back to Fehr for a tap-in tally at 7:33.

After Thrashers super sophomore Bryan Little cut the lead in half at 12:08 with his 10th goal, Ovechkin pushed the lead back to two less than two minutes later. He scored again with the man advantage, this time sweeping in a blocked shot that kicked directly to him inside the left faceoff circle.

Ovechkin made it a hat trick 54 seconds into the second period. Defenseman Tom Poti carried the puck from the right point toward the net and backhanded a pass into the slot for Ovechkin, who needed a split second to collect the puck at his feet but had plenty of traffic to shoot through for his 12th marker of the season.

“It was an important start for us, especially after the bad trip and the losing,” said Ovechkin, who nearly added a fourth goal when his shot at an empty net hit the right post in the final minute. “We just had to come back to our building and win the game.”

After a goal by Atlanta’s Slava Kozlov, Viktor Kozlov helped the Caps regain a three-goal margin with a nifty breakaway goal 80 seconds into the final period. Ovechkin sent him a pass up the middle of the ice, and Kozlov kicked the puck forward to his stick before skating in alone and roofing a wrist shot.

Seven regulars - defensemen Green (bruised shoulder), Jeff Schultz (broken finger) and John Erskine (undisclosed) plus forwards Fedorov (sprained ankle), Semin (upper body), Boyd Gordon (back spasms) and Chris Clark (forearm stress fracture) - couldn’t play, and the number swells to eight if defenseman Brian Pothier (out indefinitely with postconcussion symptoms) is included.

The Caps have minimal salary cap space and were at the 23-man roster limit. To make room financially, both Schultz and Clark were placed on long-term injured reserve.

By doing so, the Caps replaced a prorated amount of the nearly $3.4 million in cap space the contracts of Clark and Schultz take up. By going on long-term injured reserve, the two players will miss at least 24 days and are eligible to return on Dec. 19. Schultz had surgery on his finger and is expected to miss four to six weeks, while Clark’s timetable has not been defined.

To open two more roster spots, Green and Semin were placed on injured reserve, which constitutes at least a seven-day stay and provides no salary cap relief. Both were placed on IR retroactively and are eligible to return Friday against Montreal.

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