Capitals 5, Rangers 1
Alex Ovechkin's golden scoring touch, which had gone missing for six games, turned up last night at MCI Center. And the timing couldn't have been better for the struggling Washington Capitals.
The rookie left wing scored a goal and set up three others, and goalie Olie Kolzig stopped nearly everything sent in his direction for the Capitals, who established control early, then skated away with their most complete performance of the season, a 5-1 victory over the New York Rangers.
It was Ovechkin's most productive game in the NHL, and the win ended his team's season-long five-game losing streak in front of 15,812. The Atlantic Division-leading Rangers, meantime, lost for the first time in seven contests.
Ovechkin's first-period goal was his 16th and first since Nov. 17, ending the longest drought of his career. He also set up the Capitals' second, third and fourth goals with nifty passes, giving him four points, his first game with more than two.
"I played nice," said Ovechkin, with techno music blaring in the locker room, cranked by his teammates in his honor. "I worked hard in practice, staying after to shoot and it give me [good] results. Today, I just played how I can.
"I like this music," he said with a laugh.
Ovechkin wasn't the only Capital to find his groove following a rough stretch. Dainius Zubrus, who has missed 10 games because of injury, got his first goal since the second week of the season, and Jeff Halpern netted his first goal in three weeks.
"Guys were playing with a lot of inspiration out there," said Kolzig, who made 37 saves and came within 1 minute 43 seconds of a shutout, despite facing 15 more shots that his Rangers counterparts. "It was nice to see. We've played better than our last five-game record. We know we have to play like this every night in order for us to have a chance. But you don't want to get into the habit of losing, no matter how hard you're working."
The win continued two positive trends for the rebuilding Capitals: their success at home, and the players' ability to raise their level of play against the NHL's top teams. Seven of their nine victories have come at MCI Center (7-5-1). If the playoffs had begun last night, the Capitals would be 7-7-2 against Eastern Conference playoff teams.
Jaromir Jagr, the Rangers' leading scorer and the biggest reason they are leading the Atlantic Division, was held in check by grinders Ben Clymer, Brian Sutherby and Matt Bradley. The former Capital got an equally rude welcome from the fans, who booed loudly each time he controlled the puck. Jagr was limited to an assist on the Rangers' goal and has only two points in three games against the Capitals.
"It's pretty satisfying to shut him down after all that was said back and forth," Sutherby said.
"They just played better hockey than us," Jagr said. "From the first minute they were all over the place. They were hitting, they were pressing."
Ovechkin's goal, his first in 403:06, gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead about midway through the opening period. He created his chance by using his arm to block a feeble clearing attempt by Rangers left wing Ville Nieminen. The puck landed at his feet, and Ovechkin blasted it between Henrik Lundqvist and the near goal post.
About four minutes later, Ovechkin set up Zubrus, who accepted the crossing pass, skated toward the goal, slammed on the brakes, then spun and fired a low wrist shot off the far goal post and in. The goal was Zubrus's first since Oct. 16.
Defenseman Steve Eminger made it 3-0 at 8:01 of the second period, whipping a wrist shot past Lundqvist after taking a perfect pass from Ovechkin, who weaved his way through half of the Rangers, before dishing the puck.
Halpern's goal was his second of the season and first since Nov. 11. He jammed in a pass from Ovechkin, who passed the puck from behind the net. Matt Pettinger's third-period goal made it 5-0, and the Rangers' Petr Prucha scored on a five-on-three at 18:17 to provide the final margin.
"It's got be up there," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said, asked where the performance ranked. "It took us playing our best game. Pretty much all parts of our game were on par."