It took the Washington Capitals two periods to get a power play, but when it finally came, Alex Ovechkin made the most of it. The puck found the winger near the faceoff circle, his sweet spot, and he blasted it into the net for his 40th goal, the equalizer in a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild. Scoring hasn’t been an issue for the captain, but it has been a while since he has had a signature power-play one-timer from the left side.
“I don’t remember when I scored that kind of goal on the [power play] this year,” Ovechkin said.
“It’s about time,” Nicklas Backstrom later joked.
After Ovechkin’s goal tied the game, Dmitry Orlov delivered the decisive goal with just over five minutes left Friday at Verizon Center. The victory moved the Capitals to 45-11-4, matching their win total from last season — with 22 games remaining.
Ovechkin became the seventh player in NHL history to record 40 or more goals in eight of his first 11 seasons. His eight 40-goal seasons leads all active players, and he is the 10th player in NHL history to post at least eight 40-goal campaigns. This season is also the sixth time that Ovechkin was the first to reach the 40-goal benchmark.
The timeliness of this one was a bonus.
“It’s huge obviously,” Ovechkin said. “Every year, it’s harder and harder to score goals in this league. The goalie plays much better, faster. Their equipment is huge, and they’re big. If you get 40 goals, you get lucky.”
He had been denied earlier in the game when a great feed from defenseman Nate Schmidt was wasted when Minnesota goaltender Darcy Kuemper robbed the winger. That could have been the lasting image of the game, an overhead shot of Kuemper in a full split, his stick stopping the shot.
Instead, the sight both teams will remember is Orlov’s nifty stickhandling around Nino Niederreiter before he shot the puck into the narrow window between the goal post and Kuemper’s skate.
“Honestly, I didn’t see even what happened,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “All of a sudden, everyone jumped up, and I saw even less. Orly, you know, he’s scored some big goals.”
The Capitals’ trend of poor starts continued. They entered having allowed the first goal in six straight games, a streak the Wild extended to seven with a power-play goal from Mikko Koivu just before the first intermission. In a month of bad first periods, this might have been the worst. The Capitals went more than 12 minutes without recording a shot, tallying just three for the period.
“It’s just the mental stuff,” Ovechkin said. “It’s human nature when you know you’re in a good spot and you don’t need pushing. But as soon as they score one or two goals, you’re like, ‘Okay, we have to wake up and play our game.’ ”
The second period started better, with a goal by Brooks Orpik just 49 seconds in. Orpik, a prototypical stay-at-home defenseman, didn’t have a goal all of last season . He missed 40 games with a lower-body injury this season, and since he returned to the lineup Feb. 16 against the Los Angeles Kings, he has six points in six games, including two goals.
This was his third of the season, a career high reached in just his 20th game.
“It could be a long time before the next one,” Orpik said.
The Capitals couldn’t build on Orpik’s equalizer. Five minutes 5 seconds into the period, Niederreiter scored on a breakaway in transition to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. As has been routine for the Capitals of late, they found their footing in the final frame, again rallying from a deficit.
“It was almost like watching how not to play, how to play a little bit better and then play well,” Trotz said. “Hopefully, we learned a little bit there. . . . It wasn’t one of our better games. That’s for sure.”