Alex Ovechkin recorded the 24th hat trick of his NHL career, Evgeny Kuznetsov had a trio of assists and Ilya Samsonov made 25 saves as the Caps opened a four-game road trip with a 5-2 win over the Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday night.
Ovechkin's first goal gave the Caps the lead for good, and his last two were empty-netters in the game's waning minutes. Making his first start since Nov. 15, Samsonov was sharp, in earning his sixth win in seven starts this season.
"A little bit of a slow start, and I don't think we were playing a fast enough game," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "They're a team that's very structured in the neutral zone, and I thought that when we started to play with some more pace, then we were able to start to get some momentum and have some success obviously, and convert when we got our opportunities. It's a real good win at the end of the night for us."
The Caps got into some penalty trouble early in this one, taking a trio of minor infractions in the first period. Detroit cashed in on the second of those opportunities, jumping out to a 1-0 lead on a Robby Fabbri power-play goal at 11:47. The Caps played well otherwise, but went to the room down a goal after the first 20 minutes.
Video: Ovechkin's hat trick propels Capitals past Red Wings
Detroit's third power play of the first carried over into the second, and when Washington's Garnet Hathaway drew a hooking call on Detroit's Dylan Larkin in the first minute of the middle frame, the Caps did a good job of playing "keep away" on the delayed penalty, thereby maximizing the time they would end up having on their own man advantage.
After the two teams played 40 seconds worth of 4-on-4 hockey, the Caps tied the game on the power play. Washington moved the puck around quickly and efficiently, and from the goal line, Jakub Vrana fed T. J. Oshie in the slot. Oshie's one-time beat Detroit goaltender Jonathan Bernier, knotting the score at 1-1 at 2:19 of the second.
Just ahead of the midpoint of the period, Washington forged ahead on a rush goal from the top line. Kuznetsov carried into Detroit ice, cutting slightly to the left and leaving the puck for John Carlson in the high slot. Carlson fed Alex Ovechkin in the right circle, and when his shot lane evaporated, the Caps captain curled around the back of the cage, came out the opposite side and beat Bernier to the short side at 9:21, giving the Caps a lead they would not relinquish.
"I'll be honest with you, I got lucky," says Ovechkin of the only goal he scored against a goalie on this night. "I should go to my backhand, but decided to go behind the net. And then I go to the net and take a shot, and I hit the goalie and it went in. So kind of a lucky goal, but it was important for us."
Video: Postgame | November 30
The two sides played scoreless hockey from that point until the latter stages of the third when Tom Wilson scored what would prove to be the game-winning goal. Ovechkin appeared to be trying to get the puck in deep so Wilson could get in on the forecheck, but the puck was blunted, enabling Wilson to get a step on his man and take the puck to the net. He went to his backhand and tucked it through Bernier's pads with 5:37 left to give Washington a 3-1 lead.
"Just kind of a broken play," recounts Wilson. "I got in behind and tried to do whatever I could with it. It was nice that it went in."
The resilient Wings bounced right back just nine seconds later, the third time in the last five games the Caps have permitted a goal against on the shift after they scored a goal of their own. Luke Glendening beat Samsonov from the slot, with Dylan Larkin providing a screen in front. That goal made it a 3-2 contest at 14:32.
With Bernier off for an extra attacker, Oshie sent Ovechkin in alone for an easy empty-netter at 18:25. The Wings kept Bernier on the bench as they vied to get back in the game, and Ovechkin stripped Larkin of the puck in neutral ice and completed his hat trick with 54.4 seconds left in the contest.
Video: WSH@DET: Ovechkin earns 24th NHL hat trick in 5-2 win
"Tonight, I thought our first [period] was good, I thought our third was good, and I thought our second wasn't very good," says Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill. "So we've got to make sure we're better for all three. But there were certainly opportunities there, and I think the chances in the end are going to be pretty even.
"It was a pretty even game. They found a way to score one more over the course of the game than we did, and obviously they had the two empty-netters."