Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals got into a festive mood early and often in a late-afternoon New Year’s Eve matinee Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens. By the end of a 9-2 win, hats made an appearance on the Capital One Arena ice as Ovechkin notched his second hat trick of the season.
Ovechkin was hardly the only Capital offensive weapon to toy with Montreal goalie Jake Allen (31 saves) — he was simply the most prolific. He now has six goals in his past four games and 26 on the season.
Goaltender Charlie Lindgren continued his strong month of December, making 31 saves while earning his 11th win as a Capital. The Capitals won for the sixth time in seven games and wrapped up an 11-2-2 month.
“This whole December, how we played shows how good we are,” said Erik Gustafsson, who opened the scoring with his sixth goal. “And if we can keep this rolling — you know, we have big players coming back, too, soon — it’s a fun stretch we have here, and we just have to keep rolling.”
Washington (21-13-5) took a 2-0 lead into the second period before the fireworks really started. The teams combined for five goals in the middle frame, with three of them going to the hosts, the last a power-play strike from Dylan Strome with 39 seconds remaining in the period.
Ovechkin then started the third period with his second goal of the game, coming on the power play just 82 seconds in. Ovechkin has 37 goals in 53 games against Montreal. Asked afterward if there is something about the Canadiens that inspires him, the captain deflected. “I just enjoy to play hockey,” he said.
Marcus Johansson scored the Capitals’ seventh goal about four minutes later and appeared to score again just 25 seconds later before it was overturned after the Canadiens successfully challenged for offside.
Anthony Mantha scored on a breakaway at 15:43 of the third before Ovechkin completed the hat trick with 3:25 remaining, leaving officials to remove fans’ donations to the team’s hat collection from the ice surface.
Gustafsson’s goal came just 32 seconds into the game, giving a strong indication of the avalanche to come. Gustafsson has all six of his goals and seven assists in the past seven games.
“Gus really seems to be spreading his wings right now,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said. “Getting an opportunity to play a lot of big minutes. … It’s just something that he’s done in his past that maybe just has not been there for him, and there’s an opportunity available for him now, and he certainly is soaring with that.”
Four minutes after Gustafsson’s goal, Garnet Hathaway deflected a shot from Aliaksei Protas in front to give the home team a 2-0 advantage. It was Hathaway’s fourth goal of the season.
“Scoring on the first shift, it’s nice to see,” Lindgren said. “We all knew we had to have a bounce-back game after [Thursday’s loss in overtime to Ottawa]. I don’t think anyone was really happy with their game. I thought we played pretty well tonight. Happy with two points.”
Cole Caufield got the Canadiens on the board by burying a one-timer from the weak side on the power play at 4:02 of the second period before Nic Dowd restored the Capitals’ two-goal lead, scoring at the doorstep with 11:29 left in the second.
Washington’s next game is Tuesday at home against Buffalo.
Here is what to know from Saturday’s game:
Martin Fehervary played his first game since an upper-body injury sidelined him Dec. 3. Fehervary was still sporting a light brace on his left arm Friday, but he was medically cleared to play against the Canadiens after a 12-game absence.
Fehervary recorded an assist in 18 minutes of ice time, paired with Matt Irwin. Laviolette said before the game that Washington would probably “keep an eye” on Fehervary’s minutes to make sure the defenseman wasn’t getting overworked.
“I wouldn’t have known [he was out]. I thought Marty played a really good game,” Laviolette said. “His skating looked good. I thought him and Matty I. were really strong defensively. That was really good to get him back in there. You could just tell his speed and physicality, getting back in there was really good for us.”
Washington sent down defenseman Lucas Johansen to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa.
Snively in for Aube-Kubel
Forward Joe Snively slotted into the lineup for the first time since Nov. 15. It marked Snively’s sixth game of the season. Snively had a prime scoring opportunity early, hitting the crossbar with 8:40 remaining in the first period.
“It was an opportunity to get him in there, and I thought he played very well,” Laviolette said. “He was pushing offensively, set up that goal that got called back. He had a couple chances in front, so I thought it was good he came back in there and he was a good, positive contributing factor for our team.”
Snively replaced Nicolas Aube-Kubel in the lineup. Aube-Kubel had played in Washington’s previous eight games and recorded four assists. Aube-Kubel was on the ice for warmups against the Canadiens but left the ice early after he did not participate in any line rushes. The Capitals announced Aube-Kubel as a healthy scratch.
Lindgren’s strong December play has been crucial for a team that entered the season with two new goaltenders. Lindgren and starter Darcy Kuemper (10-9-3) are the only tandem in the NHL in which each goaltender has 10 or more wins.
“[Lindgren] has played extremely well for us; I think everyone knows that,” Laviolette said Saturday. “When Darcy was out, he really stepped up big. And Darcy has been in there for a few games now, and I thought it was a great spot for Charlie to come back in. But certainly the confidence we have in both goaltenders right now is really high.”