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Postgame Notebook, 1-31-08

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
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One for the Ages – The 14,930 patrons in attendance on Thursday night at Verizon Center will remember this night for longer than Alex Ovechkin’s NHL career will last. The Capitals’ superstar willed his team to a win over Montreal win and likely pieced together a signature performance for the home folks in the process.

Ovechkin has had hat tricks before. He has had four goals in a game before. He has had five points in a game before. Ovechkin did all those things here tonight, but this time he was involved in all of Washington’s offense, and most of the goals were of the superlative variety. And it was his first hat trick in front of the home folks.

Here’s what the stat line will read: four goals, one assist, five points, plus-4, 24:52, six shots on goal, five hits, One high stick to the face, one cut lip and one broken nose.

An Alexei Kovalev high stick caught Ovechkin up on the visor and stunned him on the game’s first shift. Ovechkin tried to glove a puck but didn’t get all of it, and it clipped him in the mouth, opening up a small cut. A Francois Bouillon check led to the broken beak, as Bouillon hammered Ovechkin with a clean shoulder hit along the boards in front of the Washington bench at 7:46 of the second period. At that stage of the game, the Caps led 2-0 and Ovechkin has just gotten started with his offensive pyrotechnics.

On his first goal, Ovechkin dangled away from a handful of Montreal defenders in the left circle, then threaded a pass to Milan Jurcina at the blueline. As the defense drifted away from Ovechkin, Jurcina fired hard slap pass back to the dynamic left winger, and he cranked a one-timer that Montreal netminder Cristobal Huet never saw.

He picked up a primary assist on Viktor Kozlov’s 10th goal of the year early in the second period. That goal was a rod hockey (or table hockey) goal. Kozlov camped at the top of the paint and put his stick on the ice. That’s all he had to do. Ovechkin fired a pass from the low half wall and it banked off Kozlov’s stationary stick and went in.

Give Nicklas Backstrom and Kozlov both some credit on Ovechkin’s third goal. Backstrom began to break the puck out of his own end, saw something he didn’t like and stopped at his own blueline to regroup. It changed the cadence of the play, and Backstrom quickly threaded a pass to Kozlov, who gained the offensive zone. Kozlov threaded the puck off Montreal defenseman Roman Hamrlik skate, and onto Ovechkin’s blade. Ovechkin fought off a defender and flipped the puck short side from in tight, over Huet’s shoulder to give Washington a 3-0 lead.

In the third period, Ovechkin took a feed from Kozlov and gained the zone. He set up Canadiens’ defenseman Mark Streit as a screen, then fired an improbably precise and completely jaw-dropping shot that went through Streit’s legs and rose swiftly until it zipped over Huet’s left shoulder and into the cage.

On the overtime game-winner, he took a hit along the boards and regained his feet. He went to the net and waited as Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz slid a pass across the top of the crease to Ovechkin. After partially fanning on his first bid, he made sure his second attempt went into the vacant net, the final brushstroke of a 63-minute, 34-second masterpiece.

Superlatives – Here’s what else comes in the wake of Ovechkin’s magnificent performance against Montreal:
• Ovechkin now has four career overtime game-winners. Only Peter Bondra and Kelly Miller have more as a Capital; both have five.
• With 70 points on the season, Ovechkin leads in the NHL scoring race for the first time in his NHL career. He also leads with 43 goals.
• He joins Bondra as the only the second Capital with three consecutive 40-goal seasons.
• Ovechkin ended his two-game drought without a goal, his longest of the season.
• It was his fourth career hat trick. Only Bondra (19), Mike Gartner (13) and Dennis Maruk (10) have more as a Capital.
• It was his second career four-goal game. Both have come in the last 14 games/34 days.
• Second career five-point game.
• First career plus-4 game.
• January goals are the most he has scored in any single month in his career.

Where Are Ya Now? – Let’s hear again from the chorus of folks who claim that the 13-year contract extension signed by Ovechkin earlier in the month is out of line for whatever lame reason. He has eight goals and 14 points in six home games and has 11 goals and 18 points in nine games overall since putting pen to paper. He has 19 goals and 30 points in his last 17 games.

After the Caps were blanked in Montreal on Tuesday, a few Montreal reporters – including Red Fisher, one of the all-time greats in my book – were crowing about how thoroughly the Habs throttled the Caps’ star. It’ll be interesting to read their Friday morning takes on this one.

Fab 4-on-4 – Two of Washington’s five goals on the night – the first one and the last one – came while the teams were skating 4-on-4. The Caps now have nine 4-on-4 goals this season, most in the NHL.

Home Cooking – Thursday’s win gives Washington its first five-game winning streak on home ice since 2002-03. The Caps finished January at 9-3, the most wins they’ve garnered in any month since

Another Rung –
Olie Kolzig’s win was his 18th of the season and the 294th of his NHL career. The victory ties him with ex-Caps goaltender Mike Liut for 24th on the NHL’s all-time wins list. Next up on the hit parade for Kolzig: ex-Flyer Ron Hextall at 296.

Streak Extended – Washington’s run of games without suffering consecutive regulation setbacks to 31 games. The Caps have an 18-9-4 record during that stretch.

The Brothers Kostitsyn – Brothers Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn both scored goals in Thursday’s game, becoming the first brothers to score in the same game for the Canadiens since Frank and Peter Mahovlich on Apr. 14, 1974.

Another Cap Killer in the Making – Montreal’s Guillaume Latendresse has four goals and nine points in seven career games against the Caps. He had two goals and three points in Thursday’s game, netting both of his goals in the third period.

Overall, Latendresse has 30 goals and 49 points in 127 NHL games.
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