Ovechkin's Hat Trick Lifts Capitals Past Thrashers

Alex Ovechkin crashes the net of Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Ovechkin scored his 10th, 11th and 12th goals of the season in the Caps' victory.
Alex Ovechkin crashes the net of Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Ovechkin scored his 10th, 11th and 12th goals of the season in the Caps' victory. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 27, 2008

The NHL debut of top prospect Karl Alzner generated considerable buzz last night at sold-out Verizon Center. By game's end, however, a familiar name had seized the spotlight for the injury-ravaged Washington Capitals.

Alex Ovechkin recorded his sixth career hat trick and set up another score to spark a 5-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on a night when his team was missing seven players who appeared on the season-opening roster.

Hats of all styles and colors came raining from the seats 54 seconds into the second period after Ovechkin, the reigning MVP and the team's new scoring leader, notched the Capitals' fourth goal on Thrashers rookie goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. With 29 points, Ovechkin surpassed injured teammate Alexander Semin's total of 27 and continues to close in on the league leaders after an uncharacteristically slow start.

"When he gets one early, he gets energized," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Ovechkin, who has 10 goals and 14 assists in the past 11 games. "He's the kind of guy who wants more."

Eric Fehr and Viktor Kozlov also scored, and José Theodore stopped 15 shots as Washington snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 8-0-1 at home. The NHL-leading San Jose Sharks are the only other team yet to suffer a regulation loss at home (11-0-1).

"We want to be a dominant team at home, we want teams to go, 'Uh-oh, we're coming into Washington,' " Boudreau said. "We want our building to be an intimidating factor."

While Ovechkin earned the red hard hat, awarded after every win to the Capitals' hardest worker, much of the talk after the game revolved around Alzner, the fifth overall pick in 2007. The defenseman was solid but not spectacular in his first game, and received a warm round of applause each time his name was mentioned over the public-address system.

"It feels like I'm at home, and that's nice," said Alzner, who received the second-highest amount of ice time (21:06) behind Ovechkin (21:32) and never looked out of place. "I know the fans always count on high picks to be impact players."

Ovechkin's heroics, meanwhile, couldn't have come at a more crucial time for the Capitals, who were without seven regulars after a forgettable night Monday in Minnesota, where they lost more than just a game.

Jeff Schultz (broken finger), Chris Clark (stress fracture in his forearm), Boyd Gordon (back spasms) and John Erskine (believed to be a concussion) all left that game with injuries. The quartet joined No. 1 defenseman Mike Green (bruised shoulder), high scoring winger Semin (upper back strain) and veteran center Sergei Fedorov (sprained ankle), who were already out.

Because of the depleted roster, the Capitals made four recalls yesterday, summoning Alzner, Chris Bourque, Graham Mink and Sami Lepisto from Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League.

In order to clear enough space under the salary cap for the recalls -- the Capitals are almost up against the salary cap of $56.7 million -- Schultz and Clark had to be placed on long-term injured reserve, meaning each must miss 24 consecutive days and at least 10 games. (The Capitals actually have 12 games in that span.) By putting Schultz and Clark on long-term injured reserve, the Capitals removed $3.39 million from the payroll. Alzner will eat up the majority of that because he is the highest paid among the new players with a salary of $1.675 million (including performance incentives).

It's unclear exactly when any of the injured players will return, but if the Capitals play the way they did in the first period against Atlanta, they shouldn't feel compelled to come back prematurely.

Ovechkin got things going only 3:29 in, blasting a shot from the point past Pavelec on the power play. Ovechkin's one-timer was set up by Lepisto, who zipped him a perfect pass from the opposite point.

Fehr made it 2-0 about four minutes later, finishing off a beautiful display of passing on a three-on-one break. Fehr dished to Michael Nylander, who made a touch pass to Tomas Fleischmann, who returned the puck to Fehr as he cut to the net.

Ovechkin's second goal also came on the power play. Kozlov's shot hit defenseman Ron Hainsey's skate and bounced right to a waiting Ovechkin. Before the second period was a minute old, Ovechkin had put the Capitals ahead 4-1, snapping a drop pass from Tom Poti past Pavelec, who faced 33 shots.

Ovechkin might have carried the offense, but Boudreau made sure to acknowledge the contributions of the new guys, whose energy, especially early in the game, was vital for a Capitals team coming off a draining road trip. Lepisto had an assist, Bourque took three shots and Mink finished with four shots, three coming in the opening minutes.

"We needed the energy, too," Boudreau said. "There were flat times, where we were almost jetlagged, so they did a great job."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company