As the Capitals took to the ice in Ottawa to open the season against the Senators, Alex Ovechkin was serenaded to chants of “Ovi sucks!” from the Senators faithful.
The Great 8 silenced the critics on Thursday, however, with a hat trick performance that reminded us all just how dangerous a scorer he can be.
Down 3-1 in the third period, it looked like the game was getting away from the Capitals.
But the man who many wondered would ever be the scoring threat he once was responded with three goals to put the Caps right back in it.
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Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to steal away a pass from Ottawa defenseman Cody Ceci deep in the offensive zone. He fed the pass across to Alex Ovechkin in the office. Goalie Craig Anderson was already down in the butterfly giving Ovechkin all the room he needed up top to net the goal.
Just 83 seconds later, the forecheck from the Ovechkin line again forced Ottawa into a turnover. Ovechkin chipped the puck at the blue line to Jakub Vrana who drove it in. He fed Evgeny Kuznetsov backside who fed it right back to the trailing Ovechkin for the easy goal.
A disappointing 3-1 game turned into a 3-3 tie in less than two minutes.
Mark Stone almost spoiled the party with a goalie 77 seconds later to give Ottawa back the lead, but Ovechkin would not be denied.
Vrana and Kuznetsov converged into the corner of the offensive zone in a battle for the puck. When the puck did finally squirt loose Ovechkin pounced on it and snapped a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Anderson to complete the hat trick, the 18th of his career.
It was a fitting performance for Ovechkin who made his NHL 12 years ago on the very same day, scoring twice against the Columbus Blue Jackets to announce his presence in the NHL. Just when people began to wonder if Ovechkin was on the decline after scoring 33 goals last season, Ovechkin made it known he remains very much one of the top scoring threats in the NHL.
Vincent Trocheck scored on the power play with 18.7 seconds remaining and the Panthers escaped with a 3-2 victory on an emotional night in Sunrise, Fla.
Trocheck’s goal was Florida’s second in the final four minutes…and the Caps were left to lament yet another incomplete performance. Washington has now lost three of its last four games and fell to 4-5-2 in February.
Tarik’s three stars of the game:
1-Vincent Trocheck, Panthers
Trocheck did what Trocheck does in the third period: The Florida forward scored a clutch goal in the final seconds, redirecting a Jonathan Huberdeau shot through Brooks Orpik’s legs and past Braden Holtby.
Eller was in the penalty box when Trocheck scored his 13th third period goal of the season.
2-Andre Burakovsky, Capitals
After losing a goal to Eller in the first period, Burakovsky made sure he didn’t go home empty-handed. No. 65 scored on the power play in the second period to put the Caps ahead 2-1.
It was Burakovsky’s third goal in six games. He also earned a secondary assist on Eller’s redirection score.
3-Braden Holtby, Capitals
Following a handful of un-Holtby-like performances lately, Holtbeast roared Thursday night at BB&T Center. He made at least one game-saving stop in each period: an arm save on Trocheck in the first period; a pad stop on Denis Malgin in the second and another extended pad stop on Evgenii Dadonov in the third. Holtby finished with 30 stops.
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The Caps looked like they had the win in hand as they led 2-1 late in the third period, but things went off the rails in the final four minutes in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers
Here's how the Caps lost.
An emotional start for Robert Luongo
Before the game, Roberto Luongo took the mic during an emotional tribute to the victims of the tragic Stoneman Douglas school shooting. As a writer, it was hard to get into the game after that. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for Luongo to focus to actually play in the game. But he did. He started off very well, making several strong saves in the first period. Washington scored late in the opening period after an offensive cycle of over a minute that completely wore out the Panthers' skaters. Otherwise, Luongo was brilliant turning aside 13 of the 14 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes.
Another shaky start for Braden Holtby
This was the best game we have seen from Braden Holtby in a while as he made a number of phenomenal saves in the second and third period. In the first, however, he continued to struggle. Maxim Mamin scored his first career NHL goal and point as a puck trickled through Holtby and Mamin was able to slam it home. Holtby was dealing with a screen, but reacted late to the initial shot and late to Mamin.
Aleksander Barkov splitting Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson
With a 2-1 lead late in the third, the Caps looked like they had control. But with less than four minutes remaining, Aleksander Barkov was able to split Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson to set up Nick Bjugstad for the game-tying goal. Ovechkin was backchecking, Carlson stepped up on him and then...nothing. It looked as if both players thought the other would take Barkov and Ovechkin let up at the same time Carlson skated past giving Barkov a lane to the net.
A late penalty to Lars Eller
With the game tied late, the Caps were exerting their will in the offensive zone with the cycle that had been dominant all game long...and then Lars Eller tried to set a pick on Bjugstad, knocking him to the ice. It was an obvious interference call with just 42 seconds remaining in the game. Florida would score 22 seconds later to deny Washington not only the win, but a point as well.