The Main Thing - Facing the New Jersey Devils for the second time in a three-game homestand, the Caps were looking to avenge a subpar performance in the first of those meetings, a 5-1 Devils win on Saturday night. Washington put forth a strong response in the middle match of the homestand - a 2-0 win over Carolina on Monday - but on Thursday, it sought to show the Devils what they didn't see on Saturday, namely one of the best teams in the NHL.
The main focus for the Caps was the start. After yielding the game's first goal in eight of nine games, the Caps reversed that trend and put together a good start against the Hurricanes, and they knew they'd need to do so again against a determined Devils team that has been playing above its standings position for the last few weeks.
The Caps generated a number of excellent chances early, and they were all over the Devils in their zone. But a combination of some good - and some fortuitous - stops by goaltender Louis Domingue and some bad bounces kept the game scoreless past the midpoint of the first. The Caps had a goal called back because they were off-side, they hit a post, and what should have been a four-minute minor for a hi-sticking incident that bloodied Caps captain Alex Ovechkin went uncalled.
Not to worry, kid.
Washington waited out and ultimately overcame the first-period adversity, and came away with a 5-2 victory over New Jersey. It wasn't always pretty; their three-goal lead dwindled to just one when they yielded their fifth shorthanded goal against in the last 11 games early in the third, but they got it done.
"We finally have taken it into our own hands a little bit," says Caps defenseman John Carlson, "in terms of not spotting teams leads. Orr if they do get the lead, make them really work for it or really earn it. We're a good team in here when we play hard and detailed. Things fall our way."
Don't Poke The Bear - Early in the first period of Thursday's game, Ovechkin took an errant stick to the grill from Devils winger Miles Wood. Blood oozed from his mouth, but there would be no penalty called; the zebras were looking the other way at the time.
"Yeah, that was kind of an unfortunate play that he had to go get some stitches and deal with our dentist on that one," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "That's a tough start to the game for him because I thought it was going early. And then you get out of your rhythm a little bit, you lose your sweat, man. But yeah, sometimes things work out how they should at the end of the night, and obviously a huge night for him with three goals and certainly a much better game than the last time we played this team."
Ovechkin went off for repairs, and went he returned, he was in ill humor.
Video: Postgame | January 16
"I think we played pretty good the first couple of shifts," says Ovechkin, "and then a disallowed goal. After that right away, a hi-stick in my face and no call. But I don't think he meant to do it and the refs didn't see it, but yeah, I was a little mad and I juts punished them."
Indeed, he did.
Ovechkin notched a hat trick, scoring the Caps' first two goals of the game in the first frame - at that point, he had scored four consecutive Washington goals dating back to Monday night - and finishing his 25th career hat trick with a flourish, taking a no-look, backhand, tape-to-tape pass from Tom Wilson for an easy back door tap-in. Wilson's dazzling set up impressed even Nicklas Backstrom, who has made a career of regularly issuing such feeds.
"Absolutely, that was amazing," exudes Backstrom. "Behind the back, between the legs [of the defender], no look. That was really nice, really nice. I like it."
These days, it seems as though anytime Ovechkin scores there is a milestone or a record involved. So when he scores three times in a game and five times in two games, there is some catching up to do with various leader boards and the like.
- With 25 hat tricks, Ovechkin ties the immortal Cy Denneny (born in 1891 and inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1959) for ninth place on the NHL's all-time list.
- His second goal of the game was his 30th of the season, a feat he has achieved in each of the first 15 seasons of his NHL career. He joins former Caps winger - and Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Gartner as only the second player in league history to reel off 15 straight seasons with 30 or more goals from the start of his career. Gartner had 17 straight seasons with 30 or more goals; Jaromir Jagr is the only other player in league history to have 15 straight 30-goal seasons.
- With 689 career goals now, Ovechkin is just one goal shy of cracking the league's all-time top 10. Mario Lemieux (690) is up next on the hit list.
- Thursday's game marked Ovechkin's 140th career multi-goal game, pushing him past Hockey Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne for sixth most in NHL history.
- Thursday's game marked the 16th time in which Ovechkin had back-to-back multi-goal games within the same season, tying Hall of Famers Jarri Kurri and Teemu Selanne for seventh in league history.
- Backstrom assisted on each of Ovechkin's first two goals on Thursday, the 256th and 257th of Ovechkin's goals in which he has had his helping hands. Only three players in NHL history have ever assisted on more regular season goals by a teammate: Wayne Gretzky with Kurri (364), Bryan Trottier with Mike Bossy (310) and Henrik Sedin with Daniel Sedin (280).
Video: NJD@WSH: Ovechkin climbs all-time hatty list
"It never gets old," says Ovechkin of the milestones and records, "but without my team, without my teammates, I would never reach that milestone and I would never reach those numbers. Obviously, it's a team effort. It's still pretty cool, I'm not going to lie. But there's a long way to go, and we just have to keep going."
Number Nine, Number Nine - Caps goalie Ilya Samsonov started on Thursday against the Devils, marking the first time in his NHL career that he backstopped his team in consecutive contests. Following his 23-save shutout over Carolina on Monday - the first whitewash of his NHL career - Samsonov was sharp once again against New Jersey, stopping 32 shots to earn his 14th win of the season, and his ninth in a row.
Back in 1984-85, Bob Mason reeled off an eight-game winning streak - accounting for all eight of his NHL wins that season - to establish a Caps record for most consecutive victories by a rookie netminder. That mark held up almost exactly 35 years; Mason picked up the final win of his run on Jan. 17, 1985 when he beat Pittsburgh at the Capital Centre in Landover.
On the season, Samsonov is now 14-2-1 with a 2.10 GAA and a .926 save pct. During the life of his winning streak, Samsonov has registered a 1.66 GAA and a .939 save pct. He is 14-1-1 as a starter, and is also climbing the league's all-time consecutive wins list as far as rookies are concerned.
With his Thursday night triumph over the Devils, Samsonov becomes just the 10th different rookie goaltender in league history to win as many as nine straight games in a season. Blues goalie Jordan Binnington won nine straight last season, and Hockey Hall of Famers Bill Durnan and Terry Sawchuk also won nine straight in their first seasons. In addition to a nine-game streak, Durnan spun off 10 straight wins later in his rookie campaign.
Only four goalies have won more games consecutively than Samsonov in their rookie seasons: Boston's Ross Brooks holds the all-time mark with 14 straight wins in 1973-74. Hall of Famer George Hainsworth won 11 straight for the 1926-27 Montreal Canadiens, Hall of Famer Rogie Vachon won 10 straight for the '67-68 Canadiens, and Durnan won 10 in a row for the '43-44 Habs.
Samsonov is 22 years old. Most of the goaltenders with more consecutive wins as rookies were older, and would not qualify as such under the modern rules. Brooks was 36, Hainsworth was 31, and Durnan was 28 when each had their respective winning runs as rookies. Like Samsonov, Vachon was 22.
By The Numbers - John Carlson led the Caps with 22:26 in ice time … Wilson led the Caps with six shots on net … Ovechkin led Washington with a dozen shot attempts … Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with three hits … Radko Gudas led the Capitals with three blocked shots … Nic Dowd won nine of 11 face-offs (82 percent).