By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2009
PITTSBURGH, Jan., 14 -- Alex Ovechkin was booed each time he touched the puck Wednesday night, and on a number of occasions, the Pittsburgh Penguins attempted to punish him physically.
It was, in other words, exactly the type of atmosphere in which the reigning MVP thrives.
Ovechkin broke out of a four-game goal drought by scoring twice and setting up another goal in a big third period at Mellon Arena, where the Washington Capitals snapped a season-long three-game losing streak with a 6-3 victory before a sellout crowd.
"When he gets in a slump and then he breaks the slump, he doesn't just break it just to break it," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Ovechkin, who moved into a tie with Philadelphia's Jeff Carter with 29 goals for the league lead. "That's what Alex does. He's a real emotional guy and he plays on that passion and when he gets going he's pretty to stop."
Tomas Fleischmann netted his third goal in three games at 8 minutes 11 seconds of the third period to put the Capitals ahead 4-3, and Ovechkin clinched it about three minutes later. Ovechkin looped in the Pittsburgh zone, with seemingly half the Penguins in pursuit, then fired a pass intended for linemate Nicklas Backstrom (three assists).
But the puck went off defenseman Ryan Whitney's skate instead, scooting past Penguins goaltender Marc-André Fleury, who faced 41 Washington shots. The Capitals are now 17-0-1 in Ovechkin's last 18 multigoal games and have won three straight in Pittsburgh, their longest winning streak here since winning four in a row in 1985.
"Today we play hard, better than last night," Ovechkin said, referring to Tuesday's 5-2 loss to Edmonton at home, an effort that drew the ire of Boudreau. "We worked hard, we crashed the net and hit the guy and we have lots of traffic. It was a very emotional game."
It was indeed emotional. But it was a night on which Ovechkin kept his emotions in check. He laid hits on rivals Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, but he did so in the context of the game, unlike previous contests in which he appeared to go headhunting. In fact, Ovechkin drew a call on Malkin after the Penguins' star elbowed and cross-checked him in the first period.
Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Semin also scored for the Capitals in Semin's first face-to-face meeting with Crosby since his controversial comments regarding the Penguins' captain. Crosby notched a pair of assists, but suffered a leg injury in the first period after colliding with Kozlov and eventually left the game late in the third.
"I thought [Ovechkin and Semin] did a really good job of just going about their business and playing really hard," Boudreau said.
Defenseman Jeff Schultz scored into an empty net to provide the final margin, and goalie José Theodore finished with 26 stops. Washington's power play, meantime, produced multiple scores for the first time in eight games, just hours after Boudreau led a video session in which he stressed "getting back to basics."
The game went into the third period tied at 2. But it didn't take long for the Capitals to take their first lead on a power-play goal by Ovechkin.
Ovechkin poked his own rebound past Fleury 1:48 into the session and celebrated with a big fist pump and a leap in front of the net.
The Capitals, though, failed to seize control. Because only 1:24 later the Penguins' Whitney scored on a delayed penalty to even the score. Whitney's shot hit one post and then the other before settling behind Theodore.
Then came Fleischmann's game-winner. A year after scoring 10 goals in 75 games, he netted his 15th of the season on the power play, rifling in a shot as he fell to the ice in the slot.
"I don't want to talk about it," a smiling Fleischmann said about his streak. "I just want to keep going."
The night didn't start so promising for the Capitals, who avoided losing four straight for the first time since November 2007, the slide that led to Coach Glen Hanlon's dismissal.
Washington killed off a two-minute Penguins five on three, but Malkin struck on the remaining time on the double-minor for a high-sticking foul assessed to Donald Brashear. Malkin's 18th goal came on a slap shot from the high slot that eluded Theodore, who appeared to be screened by at least one player.
The teams exchanged the next three tallies and then Ovechkin decided it was time to take over.
"I love it," Ovechkin said of the incessant booing. "They push me hard all the time."
Capitals Notes: Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn missed last night's game with a lower body injury. He was replaced in the lineup by Bryan Helmer, who was recalled from the minor league Hershey Bears. . . . Captain Chris Clark was a healthy scratch, giving way to Eric Fehr. Clark has only one point, a goal, in his past 12 games. Boudreau said he wanted to get Fehr back into the lineup after missing two of the previous three games as a healthy scratch, and benching Clark was the "logical choice."