OTTAWA — Tyler Lewington looked over at Madison Bowey on Saturday morning and said, “I think you’ve got one tonight.” A few hours later, Lewington was on the receiving end of a similar prophecy. “Shoot the puck,” forward Brett Connolly told him just before the game. “Something good will happen.”
Both were understandably skeptical. Bowey already had played 77 games without tallying that elusive first NHL goal, and Lewington was playing in just his second NHL game and “not really thinking about scoring goals or any of that stuff,” he said. By the end of the night, after a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators, they stood in the locker room with arms around each other, both holding up pucks wrapped in white tape. Each had the date, opponent and occasion written in Sharpie — a first NHL goal.
It’s a first in franchise history and just the 19th time in league history that two defensemen have scored their first goal in the same night. Those two individual milestones lifted the Capitals to a surprisingly memorable victory. Washington came in thinned on defense by injuries. It left with a win fueled by the two young blue-liners tasked with making up for those absences. As late-December games against one of the league’s worst teams go, one with two first goals stands out.
“That was a lot of fun to watch play itself out there,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “A huge moment for our team and for those two young players.”
To properly celebrate the occasion, forward Tom Wilson dumped a chocolate smoothie on Bowey’s head before smearing shaving cream in Lewington’s face after the game, high jinks reserved when players score their first NHL goals. Wilson’s pass set up Bowey, and then center Evgeny Kuznetsov threw his arms up as if it was his goal because this one was so special that it felt as if everyone had just scored. Jakub Vrana wrapped his arms around Bowey’s neck and jumped up and down in glee. Dmitry Orlov repeatedly patted Bowey’s head. The Capitals’ bench was standing.
It had taken roughly 1,060 minutes on the ice for Bowey to score, a slap shot from the high slot that ultimately became the game-winner after the Senators tacked on a goal in the second period and another one with 3:30 left in regulation. Goaltender Pheonix Copley secured the Capitals’ fourth straight win with 31 saves.
“Obviously, it’s a long time, but it definitely felt great,” Bowey said. “It turned out to be a big goal for us. . . . It was awesome, and I know the boys were happy for me, and to get that success, it’s sweet.”
The Capitals haven’t had their full roster available all season, battling injuries throughout the first half of the campaign. The team entered Saturday’s game without three of its initial top-six defensemen. Veteran Brooks Orpik missed his 27th game with a right knee injury, Christian Djoos remains out indefinitely after left thigh surgery last month and Matt Niskanen suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury when he crashed into the boards last game.
This was the first game Niskanen has missed, and his absence is arguably the toughest to weather. He has averaged more than 22 minutes a game, playing in all situations and often against the top lines of opponents. It was on Bowey, in his sophomore season, to skate in Niskanen’s usual spot beside Orlov, and he finished with a season high in ice time (18:16). As he has felt more comfortable this season, he has flashed his strong skating more, often joining the offensive rush, and a first goal felt closer.
With Bowey playing more minutes against the Senators, Washington was forced to go with an all-rookie third pairing of Jonas Siegenthaler and Lewington that had a combined 12 games of NHL experience. Lewington, in fact, had made his debut just a week ago here against the Senators. His family had traveled from Alberta for the occasion, and while that night was memorable, his second game at Canadian Tire Centre was undoubtedly more so.
“I was still a little nervous tonight,” Lewington said. “It’s all pretty special.”
He tallied his first NHL point when he started a breakout by finding Kuznetsov, who carried the puck into the offensive zone, zipping it past two Ottawa players and right to the blade of Wilson, who easily redirected it. That gave the Capitals a lead 7:12 into the game, and it was Wilson’s 11th goal in just his 18th game.
Less than 10 minutes later, center Nicklas Backstrom handed the puck off to Lewington in the high slot, and the rookie skated up to the net before firing a puck past goaltender Marcus Hogberg, who was screened by captain Alex Ovechkin. Before Ovechkin joined the celebratory huddle on the ice, he picked up the puck Lewington scored with so it could be appropriately saved. The Capitals drafted Lewington in the seventh round of the 2013 draft, and he had more than paid his dues with three-plus seasons in the American Hockey League before injuries made way for his first NHL call-up earlier this month.
“Lewington, my first few years, it kind of seemed like he was kind of the same kind of player, and then this year in training camp, especially in the exhibition games, he looked like he made a huge, huge jump,” Orpik said Saturday morning.
One thing that hasn’t changed about him is his willingness to drop the gloves. Less than five minutes into the second period, he, Bowey and Wilson were all two-thirds of the way to a Gordie Howe hat trick — a fight, assist and goal in the same game. Washington hadn’t had one since Troy Brouwer’s in 2011, and 15:36 into the second period, Lewington checked off another first. He fought Ottawa’s Zack Smith to complete the trifecta, the first Capitals defenseman to manage the feat in nearly 28 years.
A television crew interviewed him after the game, draping a white “Hockey Night In Canada” towel around the Edmonton native’s neck. After the interview, he offered to give the coveted and famous towel back, but the producer insisted he keep it.
“It’s your first one,” he told Lewington.