TAMPA — After Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin became the first player in 100 years to record back-to-back hat tricks in the first two games of the season, he was named the NHL’s “first star” of the week Monday. Ovechkin has a league-leading seven goals and seven points through two games.
“When you score in the first game, the pressure is off,” Ovechkin said. “If you like to score goals, obviously it’s important to have a hot start because in the future you’re going to feel confident.”
Ovechkin has 19 career hat tricks, which tied Peter Bondra for the Capitals franchise record. His seven goals give him 565 for his career, which is 22nd on the all-time list of NHL regular season goal scorers. He credited linemates Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana for the blazing start to the season.
“I think it’s not about me; it’s all about my line,” Ovechkin said. “We feel the puck, we move well and when you feel comfortable and you don’t feel the pressure on yourself, it’s always fun to play. And, obviously, we have lots of ice time as well, and when you’re on the ice, you’re in the game. That’s the most important thing for us.”
After Ovechkin scored 33 goals last season, with a career-low 16 coming at even strength, he now has six goals at five-on-five through just two games.
“I think he had something to prove,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s people questioning if he’s still got it. I think he’s a proud athlete. I think that’s probably the No. 1 thing, and then I think he and Kuzy have gotten a little bit of chemistry with Vrana on that line. Just all of that combination — athletes are proud, and when you doubt their idea to do something, they get their back up a little bit and they want to prove you wrong. Hopefully, he wants to do that not only just for two games, but for 82 and really prove us wrong. He’d be on pace for a couple of hundred goals, and I’m OK with that.”
>>> While the rest of his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates may not be excited to play a red-hot Ovechkin on Monday night, Tampa Bay defenseman Mikhail Sergachev will get to face the player he watched most growing up. The 19-year-old Russian, who was traded to the Lightning this summer, said Ovechkin was his favorite player, and this will mark their first game against each other.
“I hope I’ll have a shift against him,” Sergachev said.
Sergachev is playing in just his seventh NHL game on Monday night, and he said he has never met Ovechkin, Kuznetsov or defenseman Dmitry Orlov — the Capitals’ Russian trio. Though he and Ovechkin play different positions, Sergachev has always idolized Ovechkin’s physicality and how he demands the puck in games.
“He’s always hungry for pucks, and he wants to score,” Sergachev said. “He’s a big guy, and he hits — I loved that. I was watching his highlights [growing up], and it was only goals and hitting. I didn’t care about passing and stuff, so that’s why I liked him. He’s a big guy. He plays that style that he’s always hungry for pucks.”
Sergachev joked that he hopes Ovechkin doesn’t hit him during the game. Though the two have never met, Ovechkin has heard about his young countryman, who was the ninth overall draft pick in 2016.
“He [has] huge talent,” Ovechkin said. “I think he’s going to have a great future.”
>>> Goaltender Philipp Grubauer will make his first start of the season Monday night in Tampa Bay. Grubauer played Washington’s third game last season, too, and he likely won’t have to wait too long before his next start, because the Capitals have a back-to-back set of games later this week.
Trotz said he asked goaltending coach Scott Murray for a schedule through Christmas for what games goaltenders Braden Holtby and Grubauer will start, though the Capitals could of course deviate from that, depending on how the season unfolds. Grubauer started 19 games last season and finished with a 13-6-2 record, a .926 save percentage and a 2.04 goals-against average.
“It’s more sort of the way the schedule plays out and the cadence and who we’re playing a little bit,” Trotz said. “There’s no set rule because the schedule is a little bit more random.”
Here’s Washington’s expected lineup against Tampa Bay on Monday night:
Andre Burakovsky-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Jakub Vrana
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Alex Chiasson
Nathan Walker-Jay Beagle-Devante Smith-Pelly
Scratches: Tyler Graovac, Tom Wilson (suspended)
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-John Carlson
Aaron Ness-Taylor Chorney
Scratch: Christian Djoos
Philipp Grubauer (starter)
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