When Sunday began there was only one player in the NHL with more goals than Alex Ovechkin. By the end of the Washington Capitals’ 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night at Verizon Center, there were none.
Ovechkin recorded his 16th and 17th goals to tie St. Louis captain Alexander Steen for the most in the NHL and fuel Washington’s three-goal first-period outburst against the Blues. The scoring frenzy allowed the Capitals to seize control of the contest early against a St. Louis squad playing its third game in four nights.
With the victory, the Capitals sit in first place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom they will host Wednesday.
“We’re really happy about this one. We knew they were a great team and obviously they played last night and had a long flight,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who posted his third three-assist night of the season. “We were aware of that and we wanted to come out hard.”
The opening 20 minutes have often been a struggle for Washington, riddled with inconsistencies and a lack of offense. That was far from the case against St. Louis as the Capitals zipped crisp passes and flowed easily as five-man units.
Ovechkin recorded his first goal of the night on an intimidating blast from the right circle after a nifty tap pass by Backstrom sent him racing into the offensive zone. With the Blues giving him plenty of space, Ovechkin unleashed a shot that offered no quarter for Jaroslav Halak as it blazed under his right arm and into the net for a 1-0 lead just 7 minutes 17 seconds into the contest.
A little over five minutes later, Ovechkin struck again. This time the top line had established possession in the offensive zone and Backstrom sent the puck on to Karl Alzner for a shot from the point. Halak stopped Alzner’s attempt but when the rebound popped out in front, Ovechkin flicked the puck into the net with his backhand despite being tied up with Blues defenseman Ian Cole and traveling in the opposite direction.
That tally, which gave Washington a 2-0 advantage at 12:34, tied Ovechkin with Steen for the league lead in goals with 17. It also marked Ovechkin’s 80th multigoal game in his career, which is 24 more than any other player since 2005-06.
“For me, it means a lot,” Ovechkin said of going toe-to-toe with Steen, who saw his point streak snapped at 13 games. “It’s always nice to score big goals in big game but it was a very good team effort today, especially first period when we jump on them.”
Not to be left off the scoresheet, the third line continued their hot start to the year and made it 3-0. Mikhail Grabovski drove the net and when a shot by Jason Chimera left a rebound out in front the veteran center batted it past Halak for his seventh goal of the season at 15:41. Grabovski’s marker, Washington’s third goal on six shots, chased Halak and brought Brian Elliott (13 saves) off the bench.
The three-goal frame marked Washington’s first multigoal opening period of the season and it was also quite the uncharacteristic frame for the Blues. Prior to Sunday’s game, St. Louis had gone 43 consecutive games dating back to last season without allowing three goals in a single period.
“We didn’t have the checking at the start that we normally do,” Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We were soft on coverage on a couple of goals. It happens. When you are coming on a back-to-back you need a really good start in the first period. We didn’t get it.”
The Blues cut Washington’s lead to 3-1 on a power-play goal by Vladimir Sobotka 5:29 into the second. But when they received another man advantage just 36 seconds later when Tom Wilson was whistled for roughing, the Blues couldn’t convert and missed what would be their best opportunity to climb back into the contest.
Seconds after thwarting the minor penalty to Wilson, Washington had its first power-play chance of the evening and re-established the three-goal edge. John Carlson recorded his fifth goal in eight games with a one-timer from the slot to put the Capitals up 4-1 with 9:27 gone in the middle period.
While they held, and were able to protect the sizeable advantage, the Capitals were heavily outshot. St. Louis built up a massive 47-20 lead in shots. But the Capitals’ young defensive squad, which on this night featured only three blueliners with over 100 games of NHL experience, weathered the pressure and made sure the bulk of the attempts weren’t especially threatening. Their efforts were particularly key for goaltender Braden Holtby, who recorded a career-high 46 saves in the victory.
“They throw a lot of pucks to the net,” Holtby said. “Every game is different some games you get 20 shots and a lot of them are scoring chances. Games like [Sunday] are ones where you’re just battling through traffic all night. I thought we did a good job of getting on sticks and we got lucky [with] the few deflections that didn’t go in. We stuck to our game plan.”
Capitals notes: Washington placed defenseman Mike Green (lower-body contusion) on injured reserve retroactive to Nov. 13 prior to Sunday’s game. Green must miss a minimum of seven days, which means he’s eligible to return to the lineup as early as Wednesday against Pittsburgh. Oates said it’s possible Green plays against the Penguins. . . . With an open spot on the 23-man active roster after placing Green on IR, the Capitals recalled defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who has yet to make his NHL season debut.