LOS ANGELES — It’s the most predictable shot in hockey. The Washington Capitals are on the power play with defenseman John Carlson at the point and captain Alex Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle. Carlson slides the puck over to Ovechkin, who already has his stick drawn back and ready, and if the pass is to Ovechkin’s liking, he is slapping it toward the net.
Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jack Campbell certainly knew it was coming, but the first time, it rocketed past anyway. It didn’t have quite the same velocity the second time, and it still got through Campbell’s legs. It’s a shot that’s successful not only because of the speed with which it leaves Ovechkin’s stick, but also because of how it knuckles and wobbles. On Monday night, it delivered the Capitals a much-needed 3-2 win over the Kings, and Ovechkin’s two power-play goals marked the first time in 30 games that Washington got more than one power-play goal on the same night.
Ovechkin now has three goals in the past two games, all coming from his sweet spot on the power play. He leads the league with 42 goals through 60 games, on pace to score at least 50 for the eighth time in his career — at age 33. This is his best goal-scoring pace in a decade, and with his team coming off a disappointing loss, he made sure to capitalize on his every opportunity.
“As a leader, I have a lot of time for what he did tonight,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. “Obviously, he converts on the power play, but he also managed the puck really well, put pucks in and kind of set the tone for our team to play a really committed defensive game as well.”
Making his second start against the Kings in a week, goaltender Pheonix Copley allowed two goals in the third period, a backdoor tap-in by Alex Iafallo and a slap shot from Ilya Kovalchuk in a last-minute six-on-five. But Copley finished with 26 saves and helped secure Washington’s first win at Staples Center since 2005.
The Capitals started the game like a team eager to bounce back from its lousy play the night before. The first half of this season-high six-game road trip had been a mixed bag for Washington — a poor showing in Columbus was followed by one of the team’s most complete games of the season in San Jose and then another lackluster effort in a 5-2 loss against lowly Anaheim on Sunday. Meanwhile, the standings around the Capitals had constricted, with the two Eastern Conference wild-card teams just two points back by the time the puck dropped in Los Angeles on Monday night.
A sense of urgency was more evident against the Kings. Carlson went to the penalty box for tripping 7:52 into the game, and nine seconds later, defenseman Matt Niskanen swept a puck out of the crease, saving what seemed to be a certain goal for Los Angeles. That loomed large less than three minutes later, when Washington’s Jakub Vrana drew a tripping call to put the Capitals on the power play. Carlson then set up Ovechkin’s first one-timer from the left faceoff circle 11:48 into the game.
“I think Carly does a great job of not really letting anyone know who he’s going to give it to,” forward Brett Connolly said. “He’s not really looking at [Ovechkin] half the time anyway, so Ovi just needs a little bit of room, like we all know. If there’s a little bit of traffic in front, the goalie’s kind of looking around. It’s tough for goalies to get back, especially when he puts it when he wants it. It’s amazing what he’s still doing every night and every season.”
Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in Anaheim, too, but part of Washington’s downfall was failing to add a cushion. The Capitals needed just 20 seconds to get a second goal Monday. Winger Andre Burakovsky sent a puck toward the net, where forwards Lars Eller and Connolly were both positioned, and it was Connolly who tipped the shot past Campbell for a 2-0 lead. That was Connolly’s 14th goal of the season, and he has five goals in his past eight games.
Then, 5:02 into the second period, Vrana again used his considerable speed to draw a trip, and the second power play went exactly as well as the first. Center Nicklas Backstrom passed the puck up to Carlson, who fed Ovechkin, who scored on the first snipe of the man-advantage for a 3-0 lead 5:27 into the frame.
“Every team plays differently, and there’s certain ways that he can get the puck against teams that stand a little bit close to him, like tonight,” Carlson said. “I know as a [defenseman], the hardest part about playing on the [penalty kill] … is you’re constantly reacting, and if you can make plays quick enough and execute them on the tape, then the puck can move a heck of a lot faster than a player. If that defender, whether it’s a D or a forward, doesn’t sag back to the middle, then [T.J. Oshie] is going to be standing 10 feet away and have a good look from there.
“So, it’s just constantly kind of a chess game on finding what’s open. But regardless, we want to get him the puck, and I think everyone knows that.”