Capitals 4, Penguins 3
In two previous preseason appearances, rookie Alexander Ovechkin fired almost a dozen shots on goal. He tried slap shots, wrist shots, backhanded shots.
But each time, the puck deflected off a skate, rung off the post or disappeared in the goalie's equipment -- until last night, when the flashy left wing ended two weeks of frustration against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Ovechkin scored three goals and recorded an assist in the Capitals' 4-3 victory, the team's second in six exhibition games.
"I feel very good because we win this game," said Ovechkin, the Capitals' No. 1 overall draft pick in 2004 and the cornerstone of the franchise's rebuilding effort. "Last game, I had great chance to score but I didn't score. I played two games, no goal and no assist. I just enjoy this moment. I am here, and this is my dream."
Playing in front of an announced crowd of 12,189 that was likely less than half that, Washington (2-3-1) fell behind 2-0 to a Penguins squad that skated without Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby and Sergei Gonchar, among others. But Ovechkin made sure the score didn't stay that way for very long.
The 20-year-old Russian recorded his first NHL goal at 5 minutes 20 seconds of the second period when he whacked a long rebound past the Penguins' sprawled goaltender, Sebastien Caron. The score trimmed Pittsburgh's lead to 2-1.
"After scoring a goal I feel more comfortable," Ovechkin said.
Said left wing Matt Pettinger of Ovechkin's performance: "Obviously, he was anxious because he hadn't scored. He had lots of chances the first two games. He could have had this kind of night two games ago. It was bound to happen."
Washington Captain Jeff Halpern, who skated with Ovechkin and Dainius Zubrus on the top line, said Ovechkin's confidence soared after his second-period goal.
"Even though it's not the regular season, it gets the monkey off his back," Halpern said. "You could see once he scored his first goal how excited he got, how much confidence he got. A night like tonight helps him and the team."
Ovechkin's first NHL assist came later in the second period, when Halpern redirected his shot between Caron's leg pads. That tied the game at 2. Oechkin's masterful performance, however, was just under way.
His second goal gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead -- and it was a beauty. After stealing a pass in the offensive zone with the Capitals short-handed, he dipped his shoulder and ripped a wrist shot across his body and over the Caron's glove.
A few hats fluttered onto the ice after Ovechkin's third goal, which was scored on a wrist shot over Caron's glove from point blank range. The puck had found Ovechkin's stick on the rebound; the score put Washington ahead 4-2.
"It's exciting," Coach Glen Hanlon said. "He's going to bring some people to the building and bring some excitement. "
"He made some nice solo plays, but he also got a lot of help," he added. "Even on a night when Alex scores three goals, it's about team."
Pittsburgh's Erik Christensen gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead late in the first period and Michal Ouellet scored early in the second, whipping the puck past the Capitals' goaltender, Maxime Ouellet, to put Pittsburgh ahead 2-0.
Then Ovechkin took command.
"We are playing better, better and better," Ovechkin said. "We have a good team."
Capitals Notes: Right wing Petr Sykora arrived at MCI Center from the Czech Republic last night. He passed his physical exam and will skate this morning, but will not be in the lineup when the Capitals host Philadelphia at 7 p.m. He might play tomorrow in Pittsburgh. Newly acquired left wing Jeff Friesen wasn't in the lineup, as expected. He was a late scratch for personal reasons and was replaced by Pettinger. . . .
Penguins enforcer Andre Roy, who was suspended for the first two games of the regular season on Thursday for directing a throat slashing gesture at Capitals farmhand Robin Gomez during the teams' preseason game last Sunday, wasted no time squaring off with Gomez when the teams met last night. It was the players' third fight in two games. Roy does not begin serving his suspension until Oct. 5.