Hot start on ice

Alex Ovechkin leads Caps past Devils with goal in sea­son opener at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY IS­ABELLE KHURSHUDYAN

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.

KATHER­INE FREY/THE WASHINGTON POST

Matt Niska­nen (2) and Nate Sch­midt celebrate with Alex Ovechkin af­ter he gives the Cap­i­tals a 3-2 lead with a third-pe­riod goal.

PHOTOS BY KATHER­INE FREY/THE WASHINGTON POST

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.

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