It’s hard to believe that going into tonight’s tilt with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was on pace for just 27 goals. In Ovi’s five years in the NHL prior to 2010-2011 he’s scored at least 40 goals five times, hit the 50-goal plateau four times and of course potted 65 goals in a remarkable 2007-2008 season.
Well it’s not going to get him back on the road to another 50-goal season, but Ovechkin’s three goals (10th career hat trick) in tonight’s game against the Leafs pushed the Capitals toward a much-needed 4-1 victory as they try to reclaim the Southeast Division from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And more interesting than the fact that Ovechkin’s two goals mark only the third time this season the Caps captain has scored twice in a game, is the way in which Ovechkin scored them. There was no booming shot on the power play, no slinging wrist shot skating down the wing—instead Ovechkin scored two goals from the dirty areas—about three feet in front of the Leafs goal (one deflection and one loose puck pickup) and an empty-netter.
With the win the Capitals move within one point of the Lightning with each team having play 49 games.
For the Leafs, who were coming off a rebounding 5-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks Thursday, the 4-1 loss to the Capitals represents the team's fourth loss in the last five games and leaves them locked in 12th place in the Eastern Conference. It was also the eighth straight game that the Leafs gave up the first goal (Ovechkin at 14:27 of the second period from Jeff Schultz and Nicklas Backstrom).
Toronto made things interesting in the third period when Tim Brent picked up a loose puck in front of Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby and scored making it 2-1, but a Luke Schenn giveaway about five minutes later sent Matt Hendricks in alone and he put it by J.S Giguere making it 3-1. Ovechkin then added an empty-netter icing the game for the Capitals.
“We had a great start and played hard,” said Leaf defenceman and captain Dion Phaneuf, in an interview with the Globe and Mail. “They got that second goal, it went in off my hand, we responded to that."
Holtby Shines in Goal
Aside from Ovechkin’s three goals, it was Capitals goaltender Brayden Holtby who stole the show. The 21-year-old from Lloydminster, Saskatchewan (also the birthplace of Leafs forward Colby Armstrong) made 35 saves including several flurries from the Maple Leafs in the third period. Prior to tonight’s brilliance Holtby was 3-2-1 with an .872 save percentage and a 3.19 goals against average—not great numbers but tonight’s performance showed the Caps have another young goaltender that can work through their system and possibly be the future in goal.
The Leafs take the day off Sunday before heading to Carolina for a Monday night tilt with the Hurricanes.