By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009
Alex Ovechkin came into Thursday's game with 224 career goals, the most in the NHL since the lockout. None of them, however, had come against the San Jose Sharks.
Now he has two.
On a night when the Washington Capitals needed their best player to be that and more, Ovechkin struck twice in span of 28 seconds in the second period to lift his team to a 4-1 victory, and more importantly, snap a four-game losing streak.
"Finally I scored," said Ovechkin, who took back the goal-scoring lead with his sixth and seventh of the season. "We didn't play them a lot, but finally."
The victory also ended what had been Washington's longest current losing streak to an opponent at 11 games, a drought that stretched back to February 1999. It was also the Capitals' first win over goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who had won his previous eight starts against them.
The milestone win, however, may prove to be costly. Starting goaltender José Theodore left the game after the first period with back spasms and did not return. General Manager George McPhee said Theodore was day-to-day and would be reevaluated on Friday.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He reached for a puck and he couldn't get it and they scored the goal on the next shot, but the period was almost over. So he did a great job of hanging in there."
Theodore, who had faced 13 shots, was replaced by Semyon Varlamov. The 21-year-old, who had been pulled in his previous start, was outstanding in stopping 15 shots over the final 40 minutes.
"You couldn't have written a better script to have Varly having his struggles the two previous games and then to come in and shut down a team like this. That must be good for his confidence," Boudreau said.
But as good as Varlamov was, Ovechkin was better. The two-time MVP finished 13 shots, eight more San Jose's Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Joe Thornton combined.
Late in the first period, Ovechkin could be seen joking with Nabokov after the goalie made an exaggerated glove save on him. In the second period, Ovechkin let his stick do the talking.
Ovechkin (seven goals) took back the league lead from teammate and close friend Alexander Semin with a pair of quick goals to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead. Semin had scored the Capitals' first goal.
Ovechkin's first strike -- his first goal in three games against the Sharks and first on Nabokov -- came on the rush when he redirected a crossing pass from Mike Knuble between Nabokov's pads.
Less than a half-minute later, Ovechkin beat Kent Huskins to the net and chipped in a rebound of a Knuble shot to put the Capitals ahead 3-1.
Ovechkin's outburst came in his first game with his new line mates, Knuble and Brendan Morrison. Both players registered assists on Ovechkin's goals; Morrison has six points in seven games.
"They are coming out here to start a long road trip and we knew that," Morrison said. "We got on them early, put them back on their heels, made them take penalties and took them out of the game early."
Each team scored once in the first period as the teams combined for 30 shots on goal in a furious opening 20 minutes. The Capitals' 17 shots were a season high; Ovechkin and Semin combined for 13 of them.
Semin opened the scoring at 7:21 with Washington's first five-on three-goal of the season. Positioned down low between the goal line and the circle, Semin snapped a perfectly placed crossing pass from Backstrom past Nabokov. It was the Capitals' only goal on five first period power plays.
They could only hold off the Sharks for so long. San Jose tied the game late in the first when Benn Ferriero streaked through the middle, beat Eric Fehr to the net and fired a pass Scott Nichol over Theodore.
But then Ovechkin came through with a two-goal shift that energized the capacity crowd and seemed to demoralize the Sharks.
"I was a little worried after the first period because when you get that many power plays and you only come out 1-1, you know something is usually going to happen the other way," Boudreau said. "But we were really a determined group. When Alex got those two goals, there seemed to be a surge of confidence on our team."
Capitals Notes: Anton Gustafsson, a 2008 first-round draft pick, was loaned to Swedish second division team, Boras HC. The 19-year-old son of former Capitals great Bengt Gustafsson had been unable to crack the lineup in Hershey, Pa. . . .
The Capitals recalled minor league center Keith Aucoin from Hershey on Thursday to replace Boyd Gordon (sore back). Defenseman John Erskine (bruised hand) was placed on injured reserve Thursday.