Secondary scoring is sweet, but sometimes rank has it privileges, and the Captain of the Washington Capitals exercised his on Thursday night. Alex Ovechkin recorded a hat trick to lead the Capitals to their fifth straight win, a 4-3 decision over the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center, while the Wild fell to their seventh straight defeat.
After the teams played to a scoreless first period, Ovechkin opened the scoring early in the middle frame. Ovechkin started the play by carrying the puck into the Minnesota zone on the left side. From just inside the blue line he sent the puck across to Nicklas Backstrom at the far edge of the right wing faceoff circle. Backstrom slid the puck back to T.J. Oshie just jumping off the bench. Oshie fired a shot at the Wild net that hit a player on way through and was directed onto the stick of Ovechkin to the right of goalie Devan Dubnyk. Ovechkin snapped the puck past Dubnyk’s right pad, and it was 1-0 2:14 into the period.
Less than three minutes Ovechkin had his second goal. On a power play, Backstrom directed play from the right side. He moved the puck out to John Carlson, who fired a shot that went wide, caroming hard off the end boards. The rebound off the end wall came back out to Dubnyk’s right where Ovechkin was waiting once more. Before Dubnyk could secure the near post, Ovechkin jabbed the puck past him to make it 2-0 at the 5:21 mark.
The Wild halved the lead when Charlie Coyle put back the rebound of a Mikko Koivu shot from the top of the crease, but the two-goal lead was restored barely three minutes later. Nicklas Backstrom settled a loose puck and circled through the right wing circle. His shot was stopped by Dubnyk, but he could not hold it in his glove. The puck snuck out through a clot of players in front of him, and it found Ovechkin one more time. Ovechkin snapped a shot that hit the post to Dubnyk’s left rebounded back and off his left leg, and then dribbled over the goal line to complete the hat trick for Ovechkin 14:55 into the period.
Minnesota struck first in the third period on a power play goal by Ryan Suter to get the Wild to within a goal. They could not get the equalizer, though. Jason Chimera scored an empty net goal with 51.1 seconds left to make it 4-2, and Mikael Granlund added a late goal for the Wild for the final 4-3 margin.
-- The hat trick propelled Ovechkin into the league lead in goals with 34, one ahead of Chicago’s Patrick Kane.
-- The hat trick was Ovechkin’s first of the season and first since December 10, 2013 when he recorded four goals in a 6-5 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. It broke a 180-game streak without one. It was his 14th career hat trick, breaking a tie with Eric Staal for the most since the 2005-2006 season. He is now tied for second among active players in career hat tricks with Marian Gaborik and one behind Jaromir Jagr for the lead among active players.
-- The win was the Caps’ fifth straight, making it five streaks of five wins or more this season.
-- Ovechkin’s power play goal made it consecutive games with power play goals for the Caps, the first the scored against a goaltender since they went 2-for-2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 19th. They had an empty net power play goal on Tuesday against the Nashville Predators, also scored by Ovechkin.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had a three-assist game, tying him with Evgeny Kuznetsov for the team lead and drawing him to within one of the league lead in three-assist games this season (Erik Karlsson has four). It was Backstrom’s 30th career game with three or more assists, most in the NHL since he came into the league in 2007-2008, breaking a tie he had with Sidney Crosby.
-- Kuznetsov took a stick to the face off a faceoff in the third period and did not return to the game.
-- The Caps took it on the chin in the 5-on-5 battle, allowing 48 Minnesota shot attempts to 38 of their own (44.2 percent Corsi-for), a product of being out-attempted, 20-8, in the third period. They did have a slight edge in scoring chances, though, credited with 16 to 15 for the Wild (numbers from war-on-ice.com), who made a contest of it in that third period with five scoring chances to one for the Caps.
-- Ovechkin’s three goals, his 507th (Rochester, MN, area code), 508th (Cape Cod), and 509th (Spokane), vaulted him into 39th place on the all-time goal scoring list, passing the legendary Jean Beliveau. He now is within another hat trick of Gilbert Perreault (512) in 38th place.
-- Michael Latta had another one of those very clean score sheets. The only mark on this one (he had none on his score sheet against Nashville on Tuesday) was credit for one hit. Then again, John Carlson’s was mighty clean, too, in almost 24 minutes of ice time. He did have an assist on Ovechkin’s power play goal, but the only other mark on it was a missed shot attempt.
-- If you follow faceoffs, you have to know that winning 22 of 68 draws is either really generous hometown scoring, or the Caps were butt-ugly awful in the circle. Mike Richards…3-for-13 (23.1 percent). T.J. Oshie…0-for-8 (0.0). Evgeny Kuznetsov…3-for-14 (21.4). It was a team effort.
In the end…
Winning streaks are funny. You can see them coming when a team is on a losing streak, but they start playing better in advance of seeing their good efforts rewarded on the scoreboard. Conversely, you can see the end of them coming when they are winning games while losing in their underlying numbers. Such might be the case with the Caps here. Mediocre possession numbers (even accounting for the third period edge for the Wild), poor results in the little things like faceoffs. Let’s face it, this game turned on headwear…a hat trick. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (three assists, and he won 12 of 21 draws) had very good games. The rest of the team, not as much. They will have to do better when they head to Dallas for a game Saturday night against the Stars.