ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alex Ovechkin has owned one 30-foot-wide circle of rinks over his career. Call the left faceoff circle the Ovi-zone, Great 8’s real estate, his office . . . what you will — but it’s one piece of ice from which he has a knack for scoring goals. Even when goalies know he is going to shoot from there, the blasts off his stick are hard to stop. He once again left his mark from that spot at Xcel Energy Center with a hat trick Tuesday night.
But teammate T.J. Oshie put a short-term lease on that spot in overtime, scoring the decisive goal to lift the Washington Capitals to a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Wild.
“I don’t know, [number] eight does it over there,” Oshie said.
Goaltender Braden Holtby became just the third goaltender in NHL history to record three straight 40-win seasons (joining Martin Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov), Oshie had two goals, and Ovechkin recorded his second three-goal game of the season with all three scores coming on the power play — and from his sweet spot. Ovechkin netted a hat trick in the Capitals’ one trip to Minnesota last year, too, but performances like Tuesday night’s have been harder to come by for the captain this season.
What’s important for Washington is that he and Oshie seem to be playing their best hockey just in time for the postseason.
Coach Barry Trotz opened his postgame media availability this way: “We are 17-0 when Ovi scores a hat trick.”
With the goaltender pulled and the net empty, Minnesota’s Eric Staal tied the game with 27 seconds left in regulation. Oshie’s goal redeemed the Capitals after they blew a two-goal third-period lead.
After Ovechkin scored his 30th goal of the season on Saturday night against the Arizona Coyotes, he acknowledged it has been a “different” season for him. Another 30-goal season put Ovechkin in an exclusive club with Wayne Gretzky and Mike Gartner as the only players with 12 straight 30-goal seasons to start their careers. Trotz pointed that out to Ovechkin after the game, but Trotz said Ovechkin’s reaction was muted.
“He’s pretty casual with some of the greatness,” Trotz said after that game.
In a season that Ovechkin described as “down and up,” Ovechkin has likely learned to appreciate his consistent production more. Reaching 30 goals was a struggle at times. He endured a career-high 10-game goal drought earlier this month, and as he has averaged the fewest minutes of his career, his shots per game have been down, too.
But with the playoffs approaching, Ovechkin has started to ramp up his own play. In the past seven games, he has six goals and four assists. Entering Tuesday’s game, he had averaged six shots per game in his past six games.
“Obviously, you have to try to be in the best shape, try to do best as you can to feel to be in the playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “Every moment, every situation, can change the game.”
After Jason Pominville tied the game 2:17 into the second period, Ovechkin got the Capitals back in front. Marcus Johansson sent a slick feed to Ovechkin’s spot, and Ovechkin wristed it past goaltender Devan Dubnyk. On Washington’s next power play, Ovechkin beat Dubnyk with his signature one-timer. In six career games against Dubnyk, Ovechkin has 11 goals and 17 points.
“I don’t think I’m the only guy,” Dubnyk said. “He scores goals when he gets the puck in places with time. Yeah, it’s frustrating. I feel like you just stand there and do nothing and it’s in the back of the net.”
The last time these two teams met, it was a matchup of the best team from each conference. The 4-2 win in Washington snapped the Capitals’ four-game losing streak at the time, and still in a tight race for first in the Metropolitan Division, Washington went on to get at least a point in the next five games, winning four of them. But Minnesota has been on a late-season slide, losing 10 of its past 12 entering Tuesday and falling to second in its division.
That last meeting marked the end of Ovechkin’s 10-game goal drought, and he is not the only one who has been hot since. Entering Tuesday’s matchup, Nicklas Backstrom, Oshie and Ovechkin had scored a combined eight goals and 15 assists in the past six games. They added to their total in the first period when all three got on the score sheet with Oshie’s 31st goal of the season. By the end of the game, Backstrom had three assists and now has 60 for the season.
“It’s always time to kick it in gear, but this is the time to really get focused and get playing your best hockey,” Oshie said. “I think we’re doing that. A lot of that has to do with [Ovechkin’s] work ethic, how hard he’s been playing lately. A guy that dynamic, when he’s working that hard, it’s just going to open stuff up, so he’s been doing a good job for us.”