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Ovechkin bouncing back with historic scoring binge for Capitals

Forward has two hat tricks, seven goals in two games after down season

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Watch out, NHL. Alex Ovechkin is back.

After a down 2016-17 season, the Washington Capitals left wing is scoring goals in bunches again.

And he's opened the season at a pace the League hasn't seen in 100 years. Ovechkin equaled his NHL career high with four goals in the Capitals' 6-1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena on Saturday.

After scoring three goals in a 5-4 shootout win at the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, Ovechkin has seven goals in the first two games of the season. It's the first time in his career he's had a hat trick in consecutive games.

Video: MTL@WSH: Ovi scores four in second game of season

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time a player had a hat trick in each of the first two games was in the NHL's first season, 1917-18. That season, Cy Denneny of the Ottawa Senators, Joe Malone of the Canadiens and Reg Noble of the Toronto Arenas each had a hat trick in his first two games.

"My wife, her sister is here and every time she's in town I score a hat trick," Ovechkin said. "So back-to-back [hat tricks now] and she's leaving Monday, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to talk to someone to keep her here."

 

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Ovechkin's line with center Evgeny Kuznetsov and rookie right wing Jakub Vrana has been dominant. Kuznetsov has assisted on all seven of Ovechkin's goals, including six primary assists. Vrana, whose speed has been an asset, has assisted on three of them.

"When your line is feeling it, you just want to be out there more and more," said Ovechkin, the Capitals captain.

Last season, Ovechkin scored seven goals in the first 11 games, which is a pretty good start for most players in most seasons. The rest of the season didn't go as well for him, though; he finished with 33 goals, his fewest in a full season since he scored 32 in 2010-11.

Ovechkin's 16 even-strength goals last season were the fewest in the 32-year-old's NHL career. That sparked questions about whether Ovechkin's days as an elite scorer were over. It didn't matter that he had hit the 50-goal mark in each of the three previous seasons, or that no other player in the League has had a 50-goal season since 2011-12, when Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin did it.

After losing forwards Justin Williams (24 goals), Marcus Johansson (24) and Daniel Winnik (12) in the offseason, the Capitals needed to find a way to replace the 60 goals those players produced last season. General manager Brian MacLellan and coach Barry Trotz each pointed to Ovechkin as someone who had to pick up at least part of the slack.

Trotz said more than once that 50 goals is the bar for Ovechkin this season. It's two games, but he's responded well to that challenge.

"Everybody says he can't score 50 goals, so he might get in his mind that I'm going to score 70 just to prove you wrong," Trotz said. "I think the top athletes in this game and in all sports, when you doubt them they put their back up and hopefully that happened. That would be a bonus for us and a bonus for Alex."

MacLellan and Trotz also challenged Ovechkin to come back this season in better condition. While visiting his son in Russia this summer, Trotz met with Ovechkin in Moscow and explained to him that as he ages he needs to evolve as a player and change the way he works out and takes care of himself.

Ovechkin's summer workouts focused more on agility than power, and he changed his diet. He dropped four pounds from 239 to 235, but it was more about changing his body composition, turning fat into muscle.

Trotz sees the difference in the way he is moving his feet.

"Alex is skating and he's getting to those pucks and his shot is undeniable," Trotz said.

That was the case on Ovechkin's first goal Saturday. Gathering a rolling puck as he cut from right to left across the slot, he spun around and fired a shot that went in over goaltender Carey Price's catching glove 20 seconds into the game. After forward T.J. Oshie scored on a rebound at 46 seconds to make it 2-0, Ovechkin scored one of his patented power-play goals from the left circle to make it 3-0 at 2:51.

His third goal came on a deflection of Kuznetsov's shot from the left circle with 1:50 remaining in the first period to make it 4-0. That completed his 19th NHL hat trick, tying Peter Bondra for the most in Capitals history.

Ovechkin was credited with his fourth goal of the game with 3:14 left in the second period after Al Montoya, who replaced Price after one period, stopped his backhand with his right pad but Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher accidentally knocked the rebound in off teammate Victor Mete's skate.

That was Ovechkin's third even-strength goal of the game and sixth of the season. There was some luck involved, but Canadiens defenseman Karl Alzner said the performance was classic Ovechkin.

Alzner would know. He played for the Capitals for nine seasons before signing with the Canadiens as an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"He's got a ton of pride so if you start questioning his pride then he's going to show you," Alzner said.

Ovechkin is one of the most prolific goal-scorers in NHL history. In two games, he has jumped from 26th on the League's all-time goal list to 22nd with 565 in 923 games, passing Guy Lafleur (560), Mike Modano (561), Mats Sundin (564) and Joe Nieuwendyk (564).

Mike Bossy is next on the list in 21st place with 573 goals. Ovechkin probably isn't going to score seven more goals in his next two games, but Bossy is squarely in his sights.

"You can see maybe he's more hungry," Kuznetsov said. "I can see this in his eyes."

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