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Ovechkin hits road with Capitals in quest for 700th NHL goal

Forward two shy of becoming eighth to reach milestone

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin will take the pursuit of his 700th NHL goal on the road, where the forward will try to reach the milestone when the Washington Capitals play the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, ESPN+, SN360, SNE, SNP, ALT, NBCSWA, NHL.TV).

All eyes were on Ovechkin the past two games, when Capitals fans hoped to see him become the eighth player to score 700 NHL goals. But he remains two away after not scoring in losses to the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders.

Ovechkin, who has 698 goals in 1,139 regular-season games during 15 seasons, is seeking to join Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708).

It initially appeared Ovechkin might have scored his 699th goal in the first period against the Islanders on Monday, but defenseman John Carlson was credited with the goal after replay showed his shot from the right point deflected in off New York defenseman Johnny Boychuk and not Ovechkin. It was a frustrating game for Ovechkin, who finished with six shots on goal and 12 shot attempts but was on the ice for all five Islanders goals.

Video: WSH@OTT: Ovechkin takes sole possession of 8th

Ovechkin may have less pressure to score the historic goal on the road, where he does not have to make the fans happy and simply can focus on playing.

He dismissed that suggestion by saying, "Whatever," but Capitals coach Todd Reirden acknowledged trying to reach the milestone would weigh on anyone.

"There has been more focus and there's been more focus than there was for the 600th," Reirden said. "Now, [he's] mic'd up all the time and putting games on NBC and changing those [start] times, and that's great. That's great for hockey. We should pay attention to this elite superstar and what he's about to accomplish. But that being said, it's more focus and it's more attention on it and he's only human as well.

"But as much as he shows us often that's he's not [human], he is, and I think he'd be happy when he can move past this one and start more importantly helping us right our game, continue to improve and he knows that when our team is playing its best and winning, goals will follow."

Video: LAK@WSH: Ovechkin earns natural hat trick in win

The goals will be of secondary importance for Ovechkin and the Capitals after they were outscored 12-5 in those losses to the Flyers (7-2) and the Islanders (5-3).

Washington begins a three-game road trip that includes games at the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday and the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday in a quest to rediscover the defensive structure and hard-working identity that helped them climb into first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals (36-15-5) lead the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins (34-15-6) by three points.

Getting back on track won't be easy against the Avalanche, who have outscored opponents 18-5 during a five-game winning streak and are 8-1-0 in their past nine.

"I think we know what's happening," Ovechkin said Wednesday. "Obviously I'm not going to tell you guys because it's not the right thing. Everything has to stay here in our locker room. We watched the video, we know our mistakes, so I think it's going to be fine."

Washington's defensive struggles date beyond the past two games. After going 26-6-5 in their first 37 games, the Capitals are 10-9-0 since, allowing at least four goals in 10 of those 19 games, and will try to avoid losing three straight games in regulation for the first time this season.

The Capitals hope going on the road will help them simplify their game. They have an NHL-high 20 road wins (20-6-1) and are tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most road points with 41.

"I think we basically stick together out there, spend more time together, I mean off the ice," Ovechkin said of playing on the road. "Lots of reasons. We just like to be on the road."

The Capitals spent the past two days working in practice on getting in sync as a five-man unit, so that when mistakes are made they don't lead to bigger breakdowns such as odd-man rushes and open scoring chances from high-danger areas.

Slow starts also have been an issue. In losing three of four games on its homestand that ended Monday, Washington allowed the first goal three times and was outscored 7-3 in the first period.

"Especially against divisional opponents, you know they're going to be coming into our rink ready to go and I just don't think we were quite ready to start on time," Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. "But we're going to learn from it."

Video: Beauvillier scores twice, Islanders defeat Capitals

The Capitals went through similar lulls in January and February the past two seasons and were able to work their way through them. With 26 regular-season games remaining, they have time left to get back to playing their best before the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin.

"It's a good thing," Ovechkin said. "You can't play all year consistently well. You're always going to have ups and downs and we knew sometime in the year it's going to happen. It's a good thing it's happening right now [rather] than it happens in the playoffs or right before the playoffs, right? So for us, it's just a time where we're going to regroup ourselves, our minds, and go out there and win the games."

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