Last season, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin scored 16 goals at even strength, the lowest total of his career over a full 82-game season. Challenged to produce more at five-on-five this season, Ovechkin took it to heart on opening night in Ottawa on Thursday.
He also took it to the Senators.
Video: Ovechkin's hat trick leads Caps to shootout victory
Ovechkin scored three times in a span of six minutes and 33 seconds of the third period to rally the Capitals from a two-goal and then a one-goal deficit. Ovechkin's offensive outburst enabled the Caps to force overtime, and Washington ultimately prevailed in the shootout, 5-4. Ovechkin scored in the skills session, too.
Despite not owning a lead at any point in the contest and facing five Ottawa power plays while enjoying just one of their own, the Caps will return from their season-opening journey to Canada with two points.
Evgeny Kuznetsov supplied the primary helper on all three Ovechkin goals, and Jakub Vrana picked up helpers on each of the last two goals from the Caps' captain.
"Kuzy and [Ovechkin] just sort of said, 'Hey, we've got to do something here,'" recounts Caps coach Barry Trotz. "And obviously the young guy was good, too."
Video: Caps 365 | October 5
Ottawa drew first blood in the contest, taking a 1-0 lead just seconds after the first television timeout of the first period. The Sens moved the puck quickly and crisply on a neutral zone regroup, with Derick Brassard carrying into the Washington zone. He halted at the right dot, feeding Chris Wideman at the right point. Wideman carried down the right wing wall and let go of a shot from the bottom of the circle. The puck eluded Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who tried in vain to use his paddle to stop the puck from rolling over the goal line at 6:25 of the first.
Less than two minutes later, the Caps pulled even.
Matt Niskanen jumped up and made a good play to glove down an Ottawa clearing bid at the right point. Niskanen pushed the puck down to Lars Eller in the slot, and Eller quickly bumped it to Brett Connolly just a couple feet higher in the zone. Connolly whipped a hard shot past Sens goaltender Craig Anderson to make it a 1-1 game at 8:07 of the first.
Video: WSH@OTT: Connolly blasts puck in from the slot
"Nisky made a great play to keep it in," says Connolly, "and then I thought Lars was good all night. He was making really good plays."
Washington had a strong start to the second period, and it nearly took the lead, but Kuznetsov's stellar cross-crease setup for Ovechkin rang iron in the early seconds of the middle stanza.
Ottawa retook the lead at 6:52 of the second. Sens winger Mark Stone picked off John Carlson's intended indirect pass in neutral ice, then worked a give-and-go with Brassard. Stone finished the play with a snap shot from the slot to give Ottawa a 2-1 lead.
Anderson flashed the left pad to deny Taylor Chorney's tying bid shortly thereafter, one of a couple more good chances for the Caps in the second. The best of those came late in the frame when Kuznetsov dangled his way through traffic in the middle of the ice, only to run out of real estate before he could pull the trigger on a yawning cage.
Holtby made an excellent right pad stop on Johnny Oduya at the back door late in the middle stanza to keep the Caps within a goal. The Caps' lone power play of the game followed, and although Washington got some looks and created some chances, it went into the final frame in a 2-1 hole.
The ditch got deeper just over two minutes into the third when a Niskanen turnover turned into a Brassard goal, with some help from Bobby Ryan. With 17:57 left, the Caps were down 3-1.
Video: WSH@OTT: Ovechkin blasts one into the top corner
That's when the Ovechkin show started. Cody Ceci's ill-advised backhand pass from the corner wound up on Kuznetsov's stick, then it wound up nestled under the crossbar, cutting the Ottawa lead to 3-2 at 4:15.
Ovechkin's second goal of the night tied the game at 3-3 just 83 seconds later. Just after Anderson robbed Vrana on the doorstep, Ovechkin made a couple of strong plays high in the Ottawa zone, the first one to get the puck back and the second to keep it in the zone. He then finished off a pretty tic-tac-toe play down low to square the score at 5:38.
Video: WSH@OTT: Ovechkin nets one-timer for his second goal
Stone's second goal of the night restored the Ottawa lead at 4-3 at the 6:55 mark. Stone made a neat deflection of a Dion Phaneuf drive from the left point.
Once again, Ovechkin had the answer. Kuznetsov gained the zone and got the puck deep, then went in after it. He and Vrana combined to win the puck on the forecheck, and soon after, Ovechkin curled out of the left wing corner with the puck on his stick, and he beat Anderson with a low, hard shot from the left circle to complete the 19th hat trick of his NHL career, matching Peter Bondra's franchise record at 10:48.
Video: WSH@OTT: Ovechkin completes third-period hat trick
After combining for five goals in a span of just eight minutes and 45 seconds in the third, the two sides played scoreless through the rest of the third and all five minutes of overtime, when the Caps were forced to kill off a Kuznetsov minor to keep their hope for two points alive.
Once Washington prevailed in the postgame skills competition, the Caps had their two points and their first season-opening triumph on the road since Oct. 1, 2009 when the beat the Bruins in Boston, 4-1.
"Sometimes you need luck and great play from your partners, [Vrana] and Kuzy," says Ovechkin. "It's nice to get a hatty, but the most important thing mentally was we needed the win. And we got it."