Cap­i­tals at Light­ning An­other hat trick, his­tory for Caps in home opener

CAP­I­TALS 6, CANA­DI­ENS 1 Ovechkin nets 4 goals; Aussie Walker scores in de­but

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY IS­ABELLE KHUR­SHUDYAN

As the re­play of the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals’ fourth goal flashed across the video board, the ap­plause in Cap­i­tal One Arena grew louder Satur­day night. One hat dropped onto the ice, then an­other, then an­other as fans squinted to see who last touched the puck.

There was no doubt about Alex Ovechkin’s first two goals, stun­ning shots from his fa­vorite spot at the left face­off cir­cle. The third re­quired a few ex­tra looks; Evgeny Kuznetsov’s shot was tipped be­fore go­ing into the net, but was it Ovechkin’s stick that got a piece of the puck? Re­play con­firmed it was in­deed Ovechkin’s goal, giv­ing him hat tricks in back-to-back games to open the sea­son.

Ovechkin added a fourth goal in the sec­ond pe­riod, and the Cap­i­tals cruised to a 6-1 win against the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens in their home opener. It was a his­toric night for Wash­ing­ton. Ovechkin be­came just the fourth player to open the sea­son with back-to-back hat tricks, and he’s the first to ac­com­plish the feat in 100 years; three play­ers did it in the first NHL sea­son.

Is this a per­fect start to the sea­son?

“Well, ob­vi­ously, yeah,” Ovechkin said. “It’s a fun time when you play like that and your line feel­ing it. It’s fun to play.”

More his­tory came on the Cap­i­tals’ sixth goal when De­vante Smith-Pelly’s shot bounced off for­ward Nathan Walker and into the net. Walker be­came the first Aus­tralian to play in an NHL game when he took his first shift Satur­day night. With his family in the stands, Walker also notched his first goal.

It was ini­tially cred­ited to Smith-Pelly, who im­me­di­ately rec­og­nized the shot de­flected off Walker. To­mor­row, 7:30 p.m., NBCSW

He asked for the puck as a keep­sake for Walker and, when the scor­ing change was an­nounced, Walker’s mother, Ceri, stood and wildly waved an Aus­tralian flag, cheer­ing with the rest of the fans. Ovechkin skated over the bench to give Walker a few taps on the hel­met.

“It was amaz­ing,” Walker said. “As a kid, you’re al­ways think­ing you’re go­ing to play in the NHL one day and be there. I just tried to take it all in and en­joy my­self.”

Goal­tender Braden Holtby qui­etly recorded 38 saves in a home opener few will for­get. The last time the Cap­i­tals played a game that counted here, it was a 2-0 loss to the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins in Game 7 of the teams’ sec­ond-round play­off series. The dis­ap­point­ment from the post­sea­son exit hung over the team and fan base through­out the sum­mer, but Satur­day night’s rout, with mile­stones and per­sonal achieve­ments and ova­tions, was an­other step in mov­ing for­ward.

Twenty sec­onds into the game, Ovechkin ripped a turn­around slap­per that re­sem­bled a base­ball swing, sail­ing the puck through two Mon­treal play­ers and over Cana­di­ens goal­tender Carey Price. On the next shift, T.J. Oshie punched in a re­bound to lift the Cap­i­tals to a 2-0 lead. Two shifts later, Wash­ing­ton’s fourth line drew a penalty, putting the Cap­i­tals on the power play. Ovechkin wristed the puck over Price once again for three goals in less than three min­utes.

But it was Ovechkin’s third goal, the sub­tle one that re­quired an ex­tra look, that will make Wash­ing­ton’s coaches and man­age­ment hap­pi­est. With the Cap­i­tals’ lineup deep and bal­anced last sea­son, the team didn’t need to rely on him as much, and his min­utes were cut by roughly two per game. His goal pro­duc­tion fell to 33, down from 50 the year be­fore, and just 16 of them were at even strength, a ca­reer-low.

With sev­eral play­ers due raises this sum­mer, Wash­ing­ton ex­pe­ri­enced its most sig­nif­i­cant ros­ter turnover in years, part­ing with top-six for­wards Justin Wil­liams and Mar­cus Jo­hans­son be­cause of salary-cap con­straints. Those two alone scored 48 goals last sea­son and, as the Cap­i­tals in­cor­po­rate sev­eral new faces in the lineup, more bur­den falls on Ovechkin to pro­duce.

Along with ask­ing Ovechkin to make some changes to his train­ing so he could bet­ter adapt to a speed­ier NHL, the Cap­i­tals also wanted to see him score more “dirty” goals in front of the net, where scor­ing takes the most work. And there he was on Satur­day night, get­ting the blade of his stick on Kuznetsov’s shot.

“You want to be at front of the net,” Ovechkin said. “I think [for­mer Cap­i­tals for­ward] Brooks Laich said, ‘If you want money, go to the bank. If you want goals, you go to the front of the net.’ Or what­ever.”

By the end of the first pe­riod, fans had cal­cu­lated he was on pace for a 246-goal sea­son. The Cana­di­ens’ 18 skaters had man­aged seven shots on goal through 20 min­utes. Ovechkin had six shots alone, and he had six goals in his pre­vi­ous two full pe­ri­ods (plus a five-minute over­time pe­riod) af­ter scor­ing three in the third pe­riod in Ot­tawa on Thurs­day. His 19th hat trick tied Peter Bon­dra for the most in fran­chise his­tory. He added a fourth goal when a puck pin­balled off sev­eral Cana­di­ens play­ers and into the net.

As the videoboard showed a re­play of his hat trick in the third pe­riod, Ovechkin smiled on the bench. He and the Cap­i­tals both proved some­thing Satur­day night.

“Some­times you just have to move for­ward, ob­vi­ously,” Ovechkin said. “It was kind of a po­si­tion where ev­ery­one thought we were go­ing to be un­stop­pable. We did it in the reg­u­lar year, but in the play­offs, some­thing hap­pened and we lost. We lost cou­ple of key guys, ob­vi­ously, but right now, you can see Walks play well. We signed good play­ers, and they stepped up.”

The cap­tain did, too.

NICK WASS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Cap­i­tals left wing Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick by the end of the first pe­riod Satur­day night, then added a fourth goal in the sec­ond.

NICK WASS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

On the night he be­came the first Aus­tralian to play a reg­u­lar sea­son NHL game, the Cap­i­tals’ Nathan Walker scored his first goal, too.

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