By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
UNIONDALE, N.Y., Jan. 19 -- About five minutes into the third period, Alex Ovechkin could have put the Washington Capitals in control against the NHL's worst team. But the star winger missed a wide-open net, clanking the puck off the side of the goal cage.
In the final analysis, though, all it did was set the stage for more Ovechkin heroics at Nassau Coliseum.
The reigning MVP scored his second goal of the game, a power play tally at 1 minute 46 seconds in overtime, to lift the Capitals to a 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Monday and move him into sole possession of the league's goal-scoring lead for the first time this season.
The win was the Capitals' third in a row, moving them within eight points of the Boston Bruins for the Eastern Conference lead, and was their second in the span of about a month in this building on an Ovechkin goal in extra time. The Islanders, meantime, have been a shipwreck of late, losing eight in a row and 20 of 22 while scoring a total of eight goals in their past six games.
"I thought we should have [been in] more control," Washington Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We're grateful that they're having trouble scoring right now."
Boudreau is just as grateful Ovechkin isn't. The 23-year-old Russian netted his 30th and 31st goals, seizing the NHL lead from Philadelphia's Jeff Carter, while joining Peter Bondra and Mike Gartner as the only players in club history to record four consecutive 30-goal seasons. (Bondra had five, and Gartner had nine in Washington and an NHL-record 15.)
Ovechkin scored the decisive tally after drawing a slashing penalty from Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt. Then, with the Capitals on a four-on-three power play, Alexander Semin patiently threaded a pass through Islanders defenseman Bruno Gervais to a waiting Ovechkin, who snapped it past Yann Danis for the winner, giving the 15,221 fans a case of deja vu. On Dec. 16th, Ovechkin scored with 11 seconds remaining in overtime to clinch a 5-4 win. The winner Monday was Ovechkin's seventh career goal in overtime, extending his franchise record.
"It was a sick pass," Ovechkin said. "I thought he would have given it to me a little bit [earlier]. But it's Semin."
Witt, meantime, felt the referee's call was a weak one. Ovechkin said the slash broke his stick.
"It was one-handed," Witt said. "It wasn't much of a slash. I was just trying to [deter] him from carrying the puck in."
Ovechkin said getting the winner was a relief for three reasons: a) He missed an empty net earlier in the final frame, b) was in the penalty box for delay of game (sending the puck over the glass) when the Islanders scored five-on-three with 7:42 left to play, and c) the Capitals did not play their best game against an opponent they should have dominated.
"They played a physical game," Ovechkin said. "It's a 2 o'clock game and we were kind of sleepy. We didn't play our best game tonight."
Asked about moving into the league lead in goals, Ovechkin, whose 65 last season were the most in the NHL in 12 years, cracked a smile and said, "I give a little bit of chance to different guys."
Ovechkin's first goal came 6:35 into the first period on the power play. With Witt in the penalty box for roughing, Ovechkin, who was stationed near the boards between the circle and the blueline, fired a one-timer from Mike Green through Danis's pads.
The sluggish game stayed that way until deep into the third period. That's when the Capitals' inability to stay out of the penalty box -- or finish in the offensive end -- finally caught up with them. Kyle Okposo jammed in a cross-crease pass from Frans Nielsen on a two-man advantage to tie the game at 1. It was the only blemish against José Theodore, who made 27 saves. He has won nine of his past 11 starts and now has 200 wins for his career.
"I don't think we had our best game," Theodore said. "They caught us a little off guard. But we didn't panic. We showed character and we got away with the point in overtime, which is huge."
Capitals Notes: Goaltender Brent Johnson suffered an undisclosed injury in practice last week and did not accompany the team on the trip. Daren Machesney was recalled from Hershey to back up Theodore. . . . Defensemen Shaone Morrisonn (lower body injury) and Tom Poti (groin muscle pull) also did not travel. . . .
Captain Chris Clark and Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup, while Eric Fehr and David Steckel were healthy scratches. . . . The Islanders were without winger Trent Hunter, their third-leading scorer, and defenseman Chris Campoli.