WASHINGTON - Alex Ovechkin keeps right on scoring, and his Washington Capitals keep right on winning at home.
Ovechkin scored two goals, including the tiebreaker with 10 seconds left in the second period, Brooks Laich also scored twice, and the Capitals beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 to improve their home record to an Eastern Conference-best 15-1-1.
Jose Theodore made 23 saves to win his third consecutive start for Washington, which moved ahead of the New York Rangers with 50 points to take over second place in the East behind Boston.
Add in a six-game home winning streak at the end of last season, and the Capitals have won 21 of their past 23 games in Washington. On Sunday, when former Capitals star Mike Gartner's No. 11 jersey was retired during a pre-game ceremony, a sellout crowd of 18,277 showed up, many wearing the team colour red.
Attendance is up about 33 per cent for the Capitals compared to this time last season.
"If there's 18,000 people pushing you, you want to play good in front of them," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You see them at the rink every day, all saying how much it means to them. It's a reason to keep playing hard."
It doesn't hurt to have reigning NHL MVP and scoring champion Ovechkin, either, of course. He raised his season total to 25 goals, including an empty-netter with 33 seconds to go.
The game was tied at one during a 4-on-4 late in the second period, when Ovechkin collected a pass from defenceman Milan Jurcina near the blue line and, as a defenceman approached, flicked a blink-and-you-missed-it wrister past goalie Vesa Toskala.
Laich tied it about 13 minutes into the second period, then added an insurance goal with a little more than four minutes left in the third, raising his season total to 10.
Toronto opened the scoring about 14 1/2 minutes into the game on left wing Niklas Hagman's wrist shot through traffic. Hagman's 11th goal of the season came off assists from Mikhail Grabovski and Jonas Frogren.
The Maple Leafs have lost three games in a row, getting outscored 16-4.
Notes: Leafs F Matt Stajan sat out the game after being hit in the eye with a soccer ball during a warmup exercise Saturday. He is expected to be out for atleast a week. . . . Gartner is the fourth Washington player to have his number retired. He ranks second in franchise history in goals (397), assists (392) and points. Asked about the team's current top scorer, Ovechkin, Gartner said: "I really do love watching him play. He's someone that ... is so talented, works so hard at it and competes so hard and wants the puck so badly, it's fun to watch." ... Toronto D Pavel Kubina played in his 700th career NHL game. ... The Maple Leafs are the fourth team in a row to shut out the Capitals in the first period. ... Capitals G Brent Johnson (hip) and RW Tomas Fleischmann (pneumonia) were scratched. ... The Capitals assigned D Tyler Sloan to AHL affiliate Hershey before the game. Defencemen Mike Green and Jeff Schultz returned to Washington's lineup after missing time with injuries. ... Washington has won 10 of 12 overall.