WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals won the New Year's Day battle between the two hottest December teams, with Dmitri Khristich scoring the decisive goal late in the second period of a 4-2 victory Monday over the Atlanta Thrashers.
The victory increased the Capitals' lead over the Thrashers to seven points in the Southeast Division. Washington had the NHL's best record (10-3-1) in December and 21 points, while Atlanta (10-5) was second with 20 points.
Khristich had a goal and two assists, giving him 14 points in 11 games since joining the Capitals on Dec. 11. Khristich put in the rebound off Adam Oates' shot at 17:50 of the second period to put Washington back in front just 16 seconds after the Thrashers had tied the score at 2.
Sylvain Cote scored his first goal in 14 games, while Peter Bondra got his 20th for the Capitals. Peter Zednik added the final goal with 2:14 remaining on a power play after Donald Audette received a major for high-sticking.
With Vezina Trophy winner Olie Kolzig attending the birth of his first child, Craig Billington got his first start since Nov. 25 and made 28 saves for his first victory this season.
Per Svartvadet and Patrik Stefan scored for the Thrashers, who outshot the Capitals 30-22. Ray Ferraro nearly tied the game when he hit the left post from the blue line with less than four minutes to go in the game.
Bondra opened the scoring on a power play 10:34 into the game. Waiting to the right of the crease, Bondra poked in a sharp cross-ice pass from Khristich for his eighth goal in six games. Bondra joins Mike Gartner as the only Capitals with 10 20-goal seasons.
Svartvadet tied the game on the fourth shot of a frantic assault on the Capitals' goal 5:25 into the second, putting in a rebound from the right circle just inside the far post.
Dean Sylvester had a chance to put Atlanta ahead with a breakaway midway through the second, but Billington dived left to stop the puck with his left forearm.
Cote then put Washington back ahead 2-1 with a slapshot from the right point at the 12:10 mark. Stefan, taking advantage of a Capitals defensive lapse, tied it 2-2 at 17:34 when his close-range shot trickled past Billington.
Notes: The Caps are 11-3-2 in home games on New Year's Day since 1983. ... The team that scored first won for the first time in eight Capitals games. ... Washington is 7-0-3 in its last 10 afternoon games. The Caps haven't lost a matinee since the final game of the 1998-99 season. ... With Kolzig attending to baby matters, the Capitals used a new NHL rule and summoned Corey Hirsch for a 48-hour emergency call-up. Kolzig had started 15 straight. ... Billington is 1-3-2 on the season. ... After a slow climb to achieve their first winning record of the season, the Thrashers have lost two straight to return below the .500 mark. ... Washington's Chris Simon was called for slashing in the third period, ending a career-best 12-game run without a penalty.
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