Capitals at MCI
The Capitals open the season at MCI Center on Wednesday.
Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post

Ovechkin Starts Off With a Bang

Jeff Halpern, left, Petr Sykora celebrate with Dainius Zubrus after Zubrus scored to give Caps a 3-2 lead in 2nd period.
Jeff Halpern, left, Petr Sykora celebrate with Dainius Zubrus after Zubrus scored to give Caps a 3-2 lead in 2nd period. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 6, 2005

For the first time in 550 days, the Washington Capitals played a game that mattered at MCI Center. And it began with a bang, thanks to Alexander Ovechkin.

On his first shift, the future star of the Capitals threw a body check so hard it dislodged the support between two pieces of plexiglass along the end boards, causing a three-minute stoppage of play -- not that the fans minded.

Ovechkin set the tone with that crushing check, then scored two goals in Washington's 3-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Capitals' first regular season home game since April 3, 2004.

"It feel very good," said Ovechkin, who became the first Washington player to score two goals in his NHL debut. "I must thank my [teammates] for giving me two excellent passes. It was just a shot. I must only shoot and I score two goals.

"It's my first game in the NHL, we win and I score two goals. It's a nice start."

Jeff Halpern recorded three assists while goaltender Olie Kolzig was spectacular for the Capitals. Dainius Zubrus, a linemate of Ovechkin and Halpern, had a goal and an assist.

Columbus dynamo Rick Nash, meantime, left the game after his second shift of the second period with a sprained ankle. Despite his absence, the Blue Jackets outshot the Capitals 37-19.

Almost as important to Washington's management as getting the victory was last night's attendance. The Capitals announced 16,325 spectators (which accounts for tickets distributed), and although the actual number appeared to be slightly fewer, it was more than triple the amount that had shown for the team's three preseason contests. MCI Center's capacity is 18,277.

"The crowd was great," Halpern said. "To be able to have more people and feed off that energy was great, especially for a young team. When the crowds are like that, it makes it easier for us to play."

Ted Leonsis, the team's majority owner, was also pleased with the turnout.

"This was a good crowd," he said. "We sold almost 500 tickets in walk-up. I don't think we've ever done that. So there was pent-up demand for hockey."

While crowd size may shrink as the luster of hockey's return from a season-long layoff caused by a labor dispute diminishes, one Capital might be worth the price of admission for some fans. Ovechkin is the Capitals' No. 1 overall draft pick in 2004 and the cornerstone of the franchise's rebuilding hopes.

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