Jets-Capitals Preview

The Associated Press

The Washington Capitals are back in first place in the Southeast Division, and a visit from the Winnipeg Jets could help them stay there.

The Capitals will try to maintain their divisional lead by continuing their home dominance of the Jets on Thursday night.

Washington (28-21-4) moved one point ahead of Florida as Tomas Vokoun posted his second shutout in three games Tuesday. Vokoun stopped 42 shots against his former team, and Alex Ovechkin scored twice in the 4-0 victory over the Panthers.

"We knew what was on the line tonight," coach Dale Hunter said. "These are four-point games, playoff games, and we're battling with Florida."

The Capitals will battle to stay in first place again Thursday while the Panthers are hosting Los Angeles. Washington, though, might have an advantage with the Jets (25-24-6) visiting the Verizon Center.

The Capitals have won 10 of the past 11 home games against that franchise, including a 4-3 overtime victory Nov. 23. Vokoun stopped 22 shots to outduel Ondrej Pavelec, and Jason Chimera scored his second goal 1:52 into the extra session.

Washington also topped the Jets 1-0 in Manitoba on Dec. 15, with Ovechkin tallying the lone goal. Michal Neuvirth recorded his first of two shutouts this season while helping the Capitals take a 2-1-0 lead in the season series.

Winnipeg enters this game with a 6-10-1 record in 2012, but it managed to avoid a third straight defeat Tuesday by topping Toronto 2-1 at home. Pavelec stopped 17 shots, and Bryan Little provided the tiebreaking score in the second period.

That goal was only the seventh in the past seven games for the Jets, with most of those struggles taking place during a six-game road stretch.

Winnipeg hasn't scored more than two goals in its last eight games away from home, totaling eight over that 3-5-0 stretch.

"We haven't been good on the road, but hopefully this win will kind of set things in motion,'' Little said. "We have another big road trip (a two-gamer) coming up, and we need these points. Every game is going to be important for us."

The Capitals also need points to keep from possibly dropping from third in the Eastern Conference to ninth, where Florida currently resides. The Jets are in 10th and trail the Panthers by three points.

Winnipeg center Kyle Wellwood won't be available to help his team try to close that gap as he's suffering from flu-like symptoms and is not on the trip, which ends Saturday against Pittsburgh. Wellwood has a team-best four points against the Capitals this season with two goals and two assists.

Ovechkin has scored more goals (31) and recorded more points (65) against the Jets franchise than against any other opponent. He has a goal and an assist in the three games this season.

Pavelec might be in net to try to stop the Capitals star and his teammates. He's been pretty successful at that lately, going 4-1-1 with a 1.16 goals-against average in his last six starts against Washington.

Vokoun, meanwhile, is 3-3-1 with a 2.90 GAA in his last eight matchups, and Neuvirth had allowed a combined 15 goals in his previous four starts against the Jets before the shutout in December.

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