Hot start on ice
Alex Ovechkin leads Caps past Devils with goal in season opener at Verizon Center
Alex Ovechkin danced down the ice, artfully maneuvering the puck from one end to the other, around lunging New Jersey defenseman John Moore and then past goaltender Keith Kinkaid into the top right corner of the net. He skated down on one knee in celebration, and “O-vi” chants appreciatively followed.
In the debut of the Capitals’ bolstered top-six forward corps — thanks to the offseason additions of right wings T. J. Oshie and Justin Willliams, though still missing injured center Nicklas Backstrom — Washington got the game-winning score from its tenured captain. His strike triggered a dominant third period in the Capitals’ 5-3 win over the Devils in the season opener at Verizon Center.
An Ovechkin goal was one of the only predictable pieces of a game that included a shorthanded goal and then a second score from the unlikeliest of players. Almost as quickly as the Capitals built a 2-0 lead, they lost it, but then Ovechkin delivered his highlight-reel shot to recover it.
Less than seven minutes after his goal, Ovechkin fed Marcus Johansson on a power play, and Johansson’s wrist shot gave the Capitals a two-goal lead 12 minutes 44 seconds into the third period. Defenseman Matt Niskanen’s empty-netter with 2:53 to play assured the result against a division opponent.
The evening began with the usual fanfare of an opening night. Each player walked down a red carpet in a suit as he arrived at the arena, stopped for selfies and signed autographs. Later, the Capitals entered the ice through a tunnel, then fog, announced one by one. They had endured seven preseason games, and then a six-day break to finally get to this point, one of the last
teams to play their first game.
A long break didn’t figure to bode well for a team with a history of slow starts, and some sluggishness could have been expected after nearly a week of just practice. First periods have not been the Capitals’ forte, but they raced out to a 2-0 lead against the Devils, who finished 13th in the Eastern Conference last season.
With Evgeny Kuznetsov in the penalty box for hooking, the Capitals flung the puck into the offensive zone, where Williams corralled it and sent a backhand pass to Jason Chimera. Chimera’s shot was deflected into the net by Devils forward Jordin Tootoo, giving the Capitals a 1-0 lead 12:04 into the first period. It was the first time in team history that the first goal of the season came shorthanded.
Less than three minutes later, another unlikely event happened. Brooks Orpik, just activated off the injured non-roster list on Saturday after his surgically repaired wrist sidelined him for every preseason game, fielded a pass from Tom Wilson and blasted a slap shot for his first goal in a Capitals jersey. He played 78 games last year without scoring, and the 35year-old defenseman has never scored more than two goals in a season.
As soon as Orpik’s one-timer went in, he flipped his stick up in the air and forwardMichael Latta emphatically slammed into him, happily hugging Orpik with every other Capitals player on the ice. OnFriday, Orpik had groused that he would have to wear a brace on his wrist, which limited his range of motion.
But the celebrations were short-lived. Adam Henrique wristed a shot top-shelf 22 seconds after Orpik’s goal to cut the Capitals’ lead in half. Sean Collins got called for holding less than two minutes later, and Devils defenseman Eric Gelinas blasted in the tying score from the top of the zone.
Washington had a ripe opportunity to take a lead in the second period, when 22 seconds into a Capitals power play, Lee Stempniak got called for holding, giving Washington a five-on-three advantage for 1:38. The Capitals had five shots on goal in that span, including one off a transition into the offensive zone that left Oshie all alone with only Kinkaid in front of him.
The chance resembled a shootout strike Oshie’s known for burying, but his backhand shot was saved. Instead of capitalizing on the two-man advantage, the Capitals instead found themselves reeling as one Devils player stormed out of the penalty box. Henrique had a breakaway chance, but was stopped by Braden Holtby’s right pad. The Capitals had an 11-5 shot on goal advantage in the second period, but they retreated to the locker room empty handed.
Thanks to Ovechkin getting them restarted, they left victorious, the first win of the season secured.
Matt Niskanen (2) and Nate Schmidt celebrate with Alex Ovechkin after he gives the Capitals a 3-2 lead with a third-period goal.
Caps winger T.J. Oshie, playing in his first regular season game with his new team, goes airborne as he tangles with the Devils’ Travis Zajac.
The Capitals’ Andre Burakovsky takes a look at the goal in the third period against Keith Kinkaid, who allowed four goals on 26 shots.