- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2007

ATLANTAAlex Ovechkin scored 98 goals in his first two seasons with the Washington Capitals. He failed to increase his total last night, but that didn’t stop him from being a dominant player.

Ovechkin set up a much-needed insurance tally and might have saved another late in a 3-1 season-opening victory against the Atlanta Thrashers in front of a sellout crowd at Philips Arena.

“I thought for Ovie it was likely his best game as a Washington Capital,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “He was so sound all over the ice. He is going to score his goals, but he did so many other things well.”

The Thrashers had dictated the play for the second half of the second period and the opening portion of the third, grasping the momentum away from the Caps and halving a two-goal deficit. Ovechkin and his linemates Viktor Kozlov and Tomas Fleischmann settled the Caps with a strong shift, keeping the puck in the offensive zone for nearly a minute.

Eventually, Ovechkin skated out from behind the net to the right of Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen and fired a diagonal pass through the heart of the Thrashers’ defense to Mike Green on the point. Kozlov deflected Green’s slap shot past Lehtonen to put Washington ahead 3-1 with 14:33 left in the final period.

Brent Johnson, fresh off an impressive preseason, made the lead stand up by stopping 28 of 29 shots. Johnson had a spectacular three-save sequence midway through the second period that started with a breakaway for Marian Hossa.

“I really didn’t do much,” Johnson said. “I know Hossa likes to shoot off the middle of his stride. I just went down in anticipation of his shot and they bumped a couple into me while I was down. That was pretty much the only semi-breakdown of the night.”

Michael Nylander put the Caps ahead 1-0 with a power-play tally 10:41 into the first period. Nylander took a short pass from Nicklas Backstrom in the corner and skated out toward the faceoff circle to the left of Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen before snapping a wrist shot through a mass of bodies into the net.

John Erskine, a bit of a surprise in the opening night lineup, gave Washington a two-goal advantage 82 seconds later. Seconds after Matt Pettinger was crunched into the boards by two Thrashers while trying to keep the puck in deep, Atlanta defenseman Ken Klee tried to make a one-handed clear but it went right to Erskine at the left point.

It marked Erskine’s second goal with the Capitals (his first was an empty-netter Dec. 12 against Buffalo). Erskine’s last tally with a goaltender in the net came as a member of the Islanders on March 14, 2005.

“That one went off of one of their guys and went in against [New Jersey’s Martin] Brodeur,” Erskine said. “That’s the first one where I’ve shot the puck and it’s actually gone in [by itself] in a while.”

Late in the game the Caps thwarted the Thrashers’ attempts to create any momentum for a rally. Atlanta nearly had an odd-man break develop, but Ovechkin hustled back on defense to deflect the puck away.

He ended that same shift by burying a Thrashers defenseman into the boards on the forecheck and nearly creating a scoring chance against three opposing skaters.

“[Ovechkin] seemed to be in the right spot all night long both offensive and defensively,” Hanlon said. “You can see the intensity and the enjoyment he is having playing with Kozlov and it shows in his play overall.”

It was nearly a perfectly scripted beginning for an organization trying to escape three consecutive playoff-less seasons.

The power play unit struck on its first chance and the new additions helped a much more offensive-minded team produce 40 shots. The penalty-killing crew was perfect in five chances and a young defense corps limited a high-octane Atlanta offense to a minimal amount of quality scoring chances.

“The shots were outside,” Johnson said. “The defensemen took a lot of shots. We did a great job only giving them perimeter shots and then making sure the rebounds were smothered up.”

Notes — Defenseman Jeff Schultz and center Brian Sutherby were the healthy scratches. Forward Alexander Semin was placed on injured reserve because of an ankle injury (retroactive to Sept. 29), but Hanlon said “there is a pretty good chance” he will play tonight against the Hurricanes. …

Last night marked the first season opener Kolzig has not started since 2000, when he missed the first three games of the season with a knee injury. Johnson started all four games at Philips for the Caps last season and went 2-1-1. …

Ovechkin and Kozlov were designated as the team’s assistant captains.

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