WASHINGTON â€” Nothing about Alex Ovechkin the showman surprises the Washington Capitals anymore.
That Ovechkin carried them on his back with two goals as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 Wednesday night for their seventh consecutive victory was hardly a shock. With the thought of recording his 1,000th point in his mind before the game, Ovechkin scored a goal 35 seconds in to reach that milestone and made it 1,001 with a power-play goal later to help snap the rival Penguins’ winning streak at five.
“Every night, he plays hard, so nothing new,” said longtime linemate Nicklas Backstrom, who assisted on each of Ovechkin’s goals and had one of his own. “The only thing that was a little surprising was maybe 35 seconds. That’s all it took. But that’s typical (of) a guy like him, though.”
Ovechkin, with his usual flair for the dramatic, scored on a pretty toe-drag and wrist shot on the game’s first shift and then from his usual spot on the power play in the second period. He’s the only player to score 20 in every season since 2005-06, his rookie year.
Wanting to reach the 1,000-point plateau in front of his wife, parents and brother, Ovechkin got it done fast and called it a “pretty special moment, pretty amazing moment.”
“That was a great start for him and for us,” coach Barry Trotz said. “If he’s going to score, he sort of had that look in his eye once he touched the puck that something good was going to happen.”
Good things have been happening a lot lately for the Capitals, who ended the Columbus Blue Jackets’ winning streak at 16 Thursday, celebrated Backstrom’s 500th career assist Saturday and Ovechkin’s 554th on Monday in Montreal that tied Maurice “Rocket” Richard.
Beating the Penguins to extend their season-best winning streak to seven on the strength of goals by Ovechkin, Backstrom, Williams an empty-netter by Lars Eller and 30 saves from Braden Holtby just kept the good vibes going for a team that is now just one point back of Columbus for first place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Capitals trailed the Blue Jackets by nine points Dec. 28 before this eight-game point streak that has vaulted them over the Penguins and New York Rangers.
“I think you can see how we play 5-on-5, obviously penalty kill do an unbelievable job and Holts unstoppable right now,” Ovechkin said. “We’re winning, but I hope the best hockey’s going to be a little bit later.”
Washington and Pittsburgh each came in on a roll, but the Penguins couldn’t crack Holtby until it was too late. Power-play goals by Evgeni Malkin, who was picked second after Ovechkin in the 2004 draft, and Patric Hornqvist made things interesting, but veteran Matt Cullen hit the crossbar on a short-handed breakaway in the third period.
Backstrom scored seconds later.
“It was probably the difference in the game,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We were climbing back in it. We had momentum, we had energy. Our power play gave us a boost in the third. We were right there. That was a big turning point for me.”
It didn’t help the Penguins that they spotted the Capitals an early lead and that the 338th consecutive sellout crowd at Verizon Center had the extra energy from Ovechkin’s milestone goal. Career-long rival Sidney Crosby, who had an assist to get to 983 points, said “the wrong guy gets the puck with a good chance.”
With a hand in each of the Russian superstar’s goals, Backstrom has assisted on 204 of Ovechkin’s 448 goals since the Swedish centre entered the league in 2007-08. That just seemed right.
“You can attach Backy’s name to so many of Ovi’s goals, it was only fitting,” Trotz said.
NOTES: Eller’s empty-net goal with 18 seconds left went in off Penguins defenceman Kris Letang’s helmet. … Williams’ goal was his 12th of the season. … Pittsburgh starter Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves. … G Matt Murray was back in uniform for the Penguins as Fleury’s backup after missing two games with a lower-body injury. … F T.J. Oshie had three of Washington’s seven minor penalties in his return to the lineup. … Evgeny Kuznetsov, who made a spinning pass to set up Williams’ goal, has nine points in five games. … The Capitals are a league-best 22-3-3 when scoring first.
Penguins: Continue their road trip by visiting the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
Capitals: Look for their eighth consecutive win Friday when they host the Chicago Blackhawks.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press