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Six find net as Caps tie season high in goals

Baltimore Sun

Michal Neuvirth and the Washington Capitals wasted little time Saturday burying an Atlanta Thrashers team that's struggling on the ice and dealing with distractions off it.

The rookie goaltender was perfect in the first period, stopping all 18 shots he faced, while an opportunistic Capitals offense struck four times on its first nine shots in an 8-1 victory at Philips Arena.

Mike Knuble and Alexander Semin each scored twice to pace the onslaught, which helped Washington open a pivotal three-game Southeast Division swing with its third straight win overall, fifth in a row over the Thrashers and ninth in 10 division contests.

Knuble, Semin and Mike Green (two assists) earned the first, second and third stars, respectively. But if coach Bruce Boudreau were picking the stars, instead of the Atlanta media, he said he would have tapped Neuvirth for the top honor as a reward for his first-period heroics.

"They had the puck in our zone the whole first period, and we're leading [3-0] after one," Boudreau said. "It's disheartening for the [Thrashers]. Once it got to 5-1, it took a lot of heart out of them."

Said Neuvirth, who limited the Thrashers' second chances by steering rebounds to the corner and smothering others: "I feel great. I made a couple of huge saves in the first, and then the guys got going. Every save gives me more confidence, especially those big saves. I'm getting used to the NHL, and I'm getting better."

The Capitals' league-leading offense has scored 17 goals the past three games while matching its highest output of the season (Washington beat the Flyers in Philadelphia, 8-2, on Dec. 5). Atlanta, meanwhile, has lost 10 of its past 11 games as trade rumors swirl around its best player and captain, Ilya Kovalchuk. Canadian sports network TSN reported Saturday that general manager Don Waddell has begun to "feel out" interest from potential trade partners just in case the Thrashers are unable to work out a long-term extension.

Kovalchuk finished without a point for the third straight game, a span in which he has amassed a plus-minus rating of minus-7. But Kovalchuk's lack of production was only part of the Thrashers' problems on this night.

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