Ovechkin scored the only goal of the shootout as the Capitals defeated the New York Islanders 2-1 at Verizon Center on Thursday night.
Ovechkin, the Capitals' second shooter, used a deke before lifting a backhander over Evgeni Nabokov. Braden Holtby made 35 saves through 65 minutes, then stopped all three New York shooters, ending the game by denying John Tavares in the crease.
The victory, Washington's sixth in eight games, gives the Capitals (18-17-2) 38 points, the same as the Winnipeg Jets, who lost at the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday and have played one more game.
"It's just the matter of continuing to play strong and play a full 60 minutes with the same mind frame," said defenseman Mike Green, who scored Washington's goal. "When you do that, whether it's shootout or overtime or whatnot, when you do that, you are going to win."
But it's not like Capitals coach Adam Oates is feeling secure about his improving team's Stanley Cup Playoff chances.
"The guys will enjoy it for a little bit, but we've got a lot of hockey left," he said of his team's climb to first place after a poor start. "I think it's more important that we focus on the weekend, because it obviously could drop just as fast. We've got to focus on our games."
The single point gives the Islanders (18-16-4) 40 points and moves them into seventh place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, each of whom have games in hand.
"Huge, I didn't think we were going to get one by [Holtby]," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "We had at least 12 to 16 shots during the third period. We'll take the point, it's on the road, tough building to play in against a real good hockey team, so, yeah, we'd like to get the two [points] but one is better than none. But I liked the effort from the guys tonight."
The Capitals took the lead when Green scored in the final seconds of the opening period, and Holtby made it stand up until he was beaten by Kyle Okposo with 4:59 left in regulation.
Holtby had no chance on Okposo's goal, but he preserved the tie when he got his right pad down to deny Matt Moulson on his doorstep. The Capitals also killed off a late penalty when Green was called for delay of game for shooting the puck into the crowd with 2:52 remaining.
"[Holtby] was a stud throughout the game. He made some tremendous saves," forward Brooks Laich said. "They had some great looks that from the bench we thought it was going in, but he was able to get a pad across and he came across big in the shootout."
The Capitals came out and pressed the tempo after the opening faceoff, but had a hard time getting their shots through to the net -- of their first 16 attempted shots, half were blocked. Each team managed five shots on goal in the opening period, but the Capitals made the most of their fifth to grab the lead just before intermission.
With time running out, Green jumped off the bench on a line change, raced into the New York zone and took a feed from Marcus Johansson. He moved inside the right circle and took a wrist shot that went through the five-hole on Nabokov. It was the eighth of the season for Green and his fifth in a four-game goal-scoring run.
"He's got a nice little streak going," Oates said of Green. "I love the way he's moving up on the play. He's not trying to do too much with it. I would say in the last few games he's moved up at the correct times and been involved in the play at the correct times, and not trying to gamble. He's playing very well."
Nabokov kept the Islanders within a goal midway through the second period with a trio of superb saves during Washington's first power play. He robbed wide-open Mathieu Perreault from the slot with 7:35 left and followed that with stops on Ovechkin and Jack Hillen.
The Islanders got their first power play with 5:45 remaining in the period when Matt Hendricks was called for roughing, but New York forward Brad Boyes took a tripping penalty 65 seconds later to negate the advantage. The Islanders had their best chance of the period during the 4-on-4, but Holtby made the best of his 14 saves in the period when he scrambled to his feet to deny Andrew MacDonald's blast from the high slot.
Nabokov continued to keep his team in the game, denying Ovechkin on a backhander before gloving Perreault's wide-open 15-footer on the same shift with just under eight minutes left in regulation -- giving the Islanders the chance to get a point.
"It is [a positive sign], we've been talking about that," Nabokov said of rallying to go home with a point. "We say all the time, it's not easy to win in this League and sometimes you're going to lose. It's like a chess match sometimes and you take a point and move on."
Material from team media was used in this report