By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 16, 2010; D01
Some nights Alex Ovechkin helps the Washington Capitals win. Other nights he's the biggest reason they do.
It was the latter Friday night at Verizon Center, where the two-time MVP amassed a goal and four assists to lift the Capitals to their fifth win in six games, 6-1, over the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs before a capacity crowd.
"In the first period, when he scored that goal, I thought, 'He's on tonight,' " Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "But you never expect five points."
Ovechkin's five-point performance equaled his career high, was his most productive since March 3, 2008 against Boston and marked the fourth time in his four-plus seasons he has recorded as many points. Never before, though, had he notched more than three assists in a game.
"He gets as excited about the team scoring goals as he does about him scoring goals," added Boudreau, whose team has scored six or more goals in a game eight times this season after doing it five times last season.
Said Maple Leafs Coach Ron Wilson: "Ovechkin makes things happen. If you play the game with a deer-in-the-headlights [look], then you're probably going to get run over by the car -- like a deer would."
Ovechkin certainly was behind the wheel on this night. He scored just 49 seconds in, then set up goals by Mike Knuble (twice) and Eric Fehr as the Capitals avenged a humbling 6-3 defeat in teams' previous meeting Dec. 12 in Toronto with one of their most complete performances of the season.
"We capitalized on our chances," said Ovechkin, whose 62 points are two behind Vancouver's Henrik Sedin for the league lead. "We just kept pushing and pushing."
While Ovechkin was rather cavalier about his performance, his teammates were not. Knuble, who has five goals in his past five games, said Ovechkin's performance left him in awe.
"He's the best player in the world," Knuble said. "To play with a guy like that in his prime, it's a gift, it's a privilege."
Tom Poti and Tomas Fleischmann also scored while José Theodore produced a second straight strong effort, stopping 28 shots, including 14 in the first period. On Wednesday, the veteran goaltender relieved rookie Michal Neuvirth and turned back all 15 shots he faced from the Florida Panthers to help the Capitals rally for a 5-4 shootout victory.
"I hope this gets him some confidence," Boudreau said. "He'll probably start on Sunday afternoon. He's a competitor, a battler. He's done it his whole life, being a small goaltender with the awards he won. So it's no surprise to me that he's gone in there and is saying, 'The heck with you guys, I'm going to be great.' "
Despite being outshot 14-8 in the opening 20 minutes, the Capitals took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission thanks to goals by Ovechkin and Fehr, and a solid effort from Theodore.
Ovechkin scored his 29th of the season before many fans had settled into their seats.
On the rush, Nicklas Backstrom passed to Ovechkin, who ripped a shot past Vesa Toskala, who had shut out Philadelphia, 4-0, at home 24 hours earlier. The Capitals have outscored teams 10-0 in the first minute of periods this season.
Fehr matched his career high for goals -- 12, set last season -- with his second in three games with 2 minutes 9 seconds remaining in the first period. The Capitals had six attackers because of a delayed penalty.
The Capitals put the game out of reach in the second period with a pair of goals from Knuble and two more assists from Ovechkin.
Knuble jammed the puck in after Ovechkin's centering pass hit his skate in the crease. The rugged winger's second goal came much the same way. After some tic-tac-toe passing, Ovechkin's shot was swept off the goal line by defenseman Ian White. But Knuble was there to poke the puck in past Toskala.
Third-period tallies by Fleischmann and Poti polished off the Leafs. But it was his team's effort in its own end and on a late penalty kill -- 1:41 of five on three -- that made Boudreau most proud.
"We take pride in our defense," Boudreau said. "So for those guys to buckle down and say, 'Look it, we've let Theo down a few times in the past.' . . . This is an opportunity to really defend against a pretty good power play unit, and they did."
Capitals notes: Alexander Semin (two assists) missed the morning skate because he was having his sore right wrist examined by a specialist. The winger returned to town just in time to suit up for the game -- and bearing good news. Semin's wrist, which sidelined him for seven games in November, does not have any structural damage and, according to General Manager George McPhee, will not required surgery. . . .
Jason Chimera will receive an automatic one-game suspension after being assessed an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of the game. Chimera squared off with Jay Rosehill with 2:38 remaining. Boudreau also receives an automatic $10,000 fine for the infraction. . . .
Defenseman John Carlson was recalled after the morning skate to replace Brian Pothier, who is day to day with an undisclosed injury. . . .
Defenseman John Erskine missed his third straight game with an upper body injury but is expected to practice Saturday.