WASHINGTON - Alex Ovechkin claims to dislike games that start early. His performance on the ice the past two contests tells a different story.
Ovechkin scored three goals for his seventh career hat trick and second of the season to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-4 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.
It was the second consecutive day the Capitals had a 12:30 p.m. start. On Saturday, Ovechkin said he felt "sleepy" early in the game, but woke up with two goals in the third period. He had no problems getting going Sunday, picking up his three goals in the first two periods.
Asked after the game if he liked the early game time, he had a simple answer.
"No," Ovechkin said.
Saturday night, Ovechkin went to bed at about 8 p.m. and woke up at 6:30 a.m. to get to the arena for Sunday's game. Even though he's not a fan of the earlier routine, the early wake-up call clearly had him feeling fresh right from the start.
"I kind of feel pretty good today," he said.
Ovechkin's hat trick extended his NHL-leading total to 37 goals this season. He has scored at least two goals four times in the last seven games, and now has 199 career goals in his fourth NHL season.
He completed the hat trick with 4:29 left in the second period when he took a pass from Sergei Federov near the left boards at the blue-line. Ovechkin skated in and put a shot through defenceman Filip Kuba's legs - the second time he'd gone through Kuba's legs for a score - and past goaltender Alex Auld.
"It's amazing he manages to get shots through the defence's legs," said Eric Fehr, who also had a second-period goal for Washington. "He's just got an amazing shot and an amazing release, and he gets a lot of goals."
Ovechkin's second goal came 2:15 into the second period, when he took a dump pass from Federov at the top of the right circle and ripped a shot through Kuba's legs. That goal gave Washington a 4-2 lead, and led Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg to pull starting goaltender Brian Elliot in favour of Auld.
"He's the star of the league," Hartsburg said. "People pay a lot of money to come watch him play, and he performs every night. He's certainly worth the price of admission - not for the other team, he isn't, but certainly for the fans."
Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson opened the scoring in the first period with the first of his two goals, but Washington wasted no time in taking the lead with an efficient power play. The Capitals needed only a combined seven seconds to score two goals after Ottawa's first two penalties.
Washington's first goal came three seconds after the Senators' first penalty. Nicklas Backstrom won the faceoff in the right circle and kicked the puck back to Mike Green, who pulled it in at the top of the circle and fired in the score.
Less than a minute later, Washington had another power play, and this time the Capitals took a little longer - four seconds.
The play started in nearly the same way, with Federov pushing the faceoff to Green at the top of the right circle. This time, Green found Ovechkin open on the right side of the ice. He put in his first goal of the game 10:32 into the first period, giving Washington a 2-1 lead.
"You could tell that his shot was on today," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He was just on, he could have had a couple more. You can tell early when that shot's going, when it's not fluttering and it's not going all over the place. I think it was about this time last year he started to get into a pretty good groove and started to kind of take over, and hopefully he's about to do the same thing."
The Capitals scored four second-period goals to take a 6-2 lead, the most Ottawa has given up in any period this season. Along with Ovechkin's pair and Fehr's goal, Alexander Semin picked up a breakaway when Green lobbed a pass over the Senators' defence in the neutral zone.
"A highlight pass," Boudreau said. "That was a sick pass by Mike Green."
Ottawa cut the lead with two goals in the third. Antoine Vermette scored at 7:56 and Dany Heatley poked in a loose puck one-handed at 11:28. Backstrom finished the scoring with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
"It's hard to keep the momentum going when you've got a team down 6-2," Boudreau said.
Notes: Federov assisted on all three of Ovechkin's goals. ... Green has scored in the last three games, and his 15 goals this season lead all NHL defenceman. ... Brent Johnson started in goal for the Capitals for the first time in eight games, giving Jose Theodore a rest. ... In his career, Ovechkin has scored three goals in a game five times, and has two four-goal performances. ... The game was the 14th sellout of the season for the Capitals and the seventh straight - one shy of the team record.