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Caps Open Up Opening Night Six-Pack on Habs

Ovechkin's second straight hat trick, Walker's NHL debut and first goal give Caps fans a night to remember, and the Habs a night to forget

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / Monumental Sports Network

This is the 100th year of the existence of the venerable National Hockey League, but even with all those games and players from days and years and eras gone by, you'll still occasionally see something incredible, and sometimes something that has never happened before, if not in a long, long time. 

Saturday's 6-1 Capitals victory over Montreal was one of those nights at Washington's Capital One Arena, for a few of reasons. 

Video: Ovechkin tallies four goals in 6-1 win against Habs

First off, everyone in the building knew they'd be witnessing history even before they were seated. That's because Caps winger Nathan Walker made his NHL debut, making history by becoming the first Australian-national to play in the league. 

Then there was Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, fresh off an opening night hat trick - with all three goals coming in the third period - in Ottawa on Thursday, a performance that helped Washington to a 5-4 shootout win.
Video: MTL@WSH: Ovi redirects shot to notch the hat trick
What to do for an encore? Not to worry, kid.

Ovechkin simply poured three more pucks into the net in his very next period of play, the first period of Saturday's game against the Canadiens. In doing so, he joins Hall of Famers Rick Martin (1975) and Darryl Sittler (1980) as just the third player in league history to score three goals in consecutive periods. The hat trick is the 19th of Ovechkin's career, tying him with Peter Bondra for the Washington franchise standard. 

And then for good measure, The Great Eight netted number four on the night in the second period to notch the fourth four-goal game of his NHL career, and the second of those to come at the Canadiens' expense.

"Sometimes you play well, but you didn't score," Ovechkin philosophizes. "Right now, we play well and we score goals. We're dangerous; all three forwards - dangerous. We just have to continue to play like that and hope it's going to be like that all of the time." 
Video: Alex Ovechkin Postgame | October 7
Ovechkin's offensive pyrotechnics started early, just 20 seconds after opening puck drop. Pouncing on a loose puck in the high slot, Ovechkin fired a seemingly blind turnaround slapshot to the top right corner of the cage, past the outstretched glove hand of soon-to-be-beleaguered Canadiens goaltender Carey Price.

Just 26 seconds later, T.J. Oshie made it a 2-0 game when he put back a rebound of a Nicklas Backstrom shot, giving the Caps two goals on three shots in less than a minute of action.

As it turned out, that would be all the offense the Caps would require on this night.

From his left dot office, Ovechkin netted his second goal of the night on a Washington power play at 2:51 of the first, pushing the Caps' lead to 3-0. That goal prompted Montreal bench boss Claude Julien to use his timeout early, hoping to settle his charges. 

In the waning minutes of the frame, Ovechkin reached out and redirected an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot past Price for a 4-0 Washington lead. Price finished out the period, but was then pulled in favor of backup Al Montoya. Price was dented for four goals on 14 shots. 
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | October 7
"They had a good start," says Julien, "and we weren't ready for us. That's on us. Once that game is 4-0, it's pretty hard the rest of the way."

As so frequently happens in this game, the team that struggled mightily in the first 20 minutes feels some fire beneath its collective behind after such a performance, and the tables can quickly shift thereafter. Fortunately for the Capitals, goaltender Braden Holtby made sure that was not the case on this night.

Holtby made 38 saves on the night in running his record to 2-0 on the young season, but half of those stops came in the middle period when the Habs continually hemmed the Caps in their own end, pouring 20 shots toward the Washington net. 

Brendan Gallagher got Montreal on the board with a shorthanded goal at 4:50 of the middle frame, putting a rebound of a Paul Byron shot behind Holtby. Had Holtby surrendered a second goal in that period, the outcome of this one might have been much different. 
Video: MTL@WSH: First NHL Aussie Walker scores in debut
But Holtby held the Habs at bay, and when the Caps added a couple more late in the period, it was all but over. First, Ovechkin netted number four on the night, converting another Kuznetsov feed from the goalmouth. Kuznetsov has seven assists in two games - all on Ovechkin goals - with six of them primary helpers.

"I think we've been skating since day one together," says Ovechkin of his line. "Obviously we have lots of talk; what we have to do, especially when we come into the zone. It's important that we have connections and we understand exactly what we have to do out there." 

This night didn't need much else, but there was one more jolt of drama to come.

Late in the second, Jay Beagle won an offensive zone draw back to linemate Devante Smith-Pelly, who fired a shot toward the net with Walker providing a screen in front. The shot beat Montoya, and the goal was announced as Smith-Pelly's at 18:05 in the immediate aftermath of the tally.

But a closer look between periods revealed that Walker had gotten a piece of it en route to the net, turning what was already a heck of a story into even more of a feel good event. When the scoring change was announced early in the third, Capital One Arena erupted, and Walker's understandably proud family beamed with happiness and some tears of joy. 
Video: Nathan Walker Postgame | October 7
"That was pretty special," says Walker. "It was really fun. The first couple of shifts, I wasn't quite sure what happened. I think I was just skating around, but yeah, I had a lot of fun out there."

Just making his NHL debut and making history for his country would have made for a memorable night, but Walker's goal added a healthy layer of frosting to that cake.

"I'm at a loss for words," says Walker, when asked about the goal. "That's incredible. It was really a special moment, and a proud moment, too."

Much of it was due to score effects, but Montreal owned a whopping 53-18 advantage in shot attempts over the game's final 40 minutes. 

"To me, it should have been a 7-6 game when you look at the chances," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "We've got some things to clean up, but we sort of stopped playing, and that's what happens. Braden was outstanding, he really was."

Again, had the Habs been able to sneak one more puck past Holtby in the second period, the outcome of this one might have been much different. But the Caps skated off with their second straight win to start the season, and Ovechkin and Walker left their marks on the history books.

You have to go all the way back to 1917 - and the birth of the NHL - to find the last time a player racked up consecutive hat tricks at the start of a season. Three players - Cy Denneny, Joe Malone and Reg Noble - did it at the outset of that 1917-18 season, when the NHL was but a four-team circuit. 

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