Perhaps the Capitals’ 4-0 victory over the Panthers was a statement game, reminding those around the league that the four-time defending Southeast Division champs are still kicking. Perhaps it was a reminder to themselves as well — as the song blaring in the dressing room after the victory instructed — to “Don’t stop believing”.
Regardless of whether the result had any larger implications, it clearly demonstrated how much influence Alex Ovechkin can have on a particular outing when he’s on top of his game.
The Capitals put together one of their most complete victories in recent memory, and it was one of a handful of games this season in which Ovechkin’s presence was noticeable on nearly every shift.
In his third game back since a three-game suspension, Ovechkin skated 20 minutes and 15 secondss on 23 shifts, took five shots and scored two goals for the fifth time this season.
“I think last two games my conditioning is very good,” Ovechkin said. “How I said after Montreal, it was pretty big night for me to come back to hockey again. Against Boston, my conditioning was again pretty good. I feel the puck very well, but I didn’t score. So today, everything was working for me.”
Ovechkin’s first goal of the game came on the power play 9:21 into the first period. Dennis Wideman carried the puck up ice on a rush out of the Washington zone and dished it to Ovechkin on the left boards just as he slipped past the Panthers’ penalty killers. Ovechkin’s wrister from the left faceoff circle beat Scott Clemmensen between his legs to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead.
When Ovechkin is zooming around the ice, opponents aren’t the only ones who notice; his teammates do too. Given the significance of Tuesday’s game, Ovechkin’s showing was certainly timely.
“You can kind of tell in practice yesterday, guys kind of really wanting to get back at it. We knew it was a big game coming up, and he was pretty sharp,” Jason Chimera said when asked whether he can tell Ovechkin will have a good night. “You can tell when a guy’s ready to go and when he’s not. You know. He was certainly ready tonight, which is nice.”
The second, at 11:47 of the second period, came off a long-range snap shot. Ovechkin emerged from a crowd along the boards to pick up the loose puck and then skated toward the center of the zone. Still several feet above the faceoff circles, he unleashed a shot that curved on its way to the net, beating Clemmensen high in the top left-hand corner of the cage.
“Ovi, he’s a special player. Skilled guys don’t play physical like he does,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “He brings both: He can score and he can play physical and you seen tonight that he can really skate and put a lot of heat on their D and their D were backing in pretty good.”
Ovechkin created space and opportunities for himself and his linemates all evening, and while he didn’t cash in a third time and has yet to record a hat trick this season, his offensive potency did what the Capitals needed it to do in keeping an opponent on its toes.
“I have pretty good chances after my second goal,” Ovechkin said of trying for a third goal, “but I just have my goals for next game.”