With the NHL hitting pause on the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the highlights from the first 69 games of the regular season. We’ve been counting down the top 20 games of the season and will recap multiple other categories over the coming weeks. Today we look back on the best individual performances of the season.
#5 – Holtby shuts down Jets comeback in shootout – February 25, 2020
For about 35 minutes, this game was spectacular. Alex Ovechkin scored two minutes in and Jakub Vrana made it 2-0 in the first period. Garnet Hathaway made it 3-0 about midway through the second and it looked like the rout was on. But what looked like it was going to be a cathartic blowout win for a struggling Caps team almost turned into a disaster.
Nikolaj Ehlers scored late in the second and it was all Jets after that. Kyle Connors and Mark Schiefle both scored in the third period to tie the game. Though he may have given up three goals, the Caps could not have won this game without Braden Holtby standing on his head. Winnipeg fired 17 shots on goal in the second period alone and Holtby turned aside 16 of them. He made 30 stops on 33 shots and turned aside an additional three shots in the shootout. When everything else was going wrong for Washington, Holtby kept them in it.
#4 – Samsonov earns first career shutout against Canes – January 13, 2020
This season between the pipes was always going to be an interesting one, with rookie Ilya Samsonov getting his first taste of NHL action. Interesting quickly became intriguing when Samsonov started the season 12-2-1 in his first 16 appearances. Although the rookie netminder showed well early on, he didn’t have a signature performance before earning his first career shutout on January 13th against the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena.
The Caps were coming off their first back-to-back regulation losses of the season -- with Holtby in net for both -- and Todd Reirden turned to the rookie in a big showdown with the Canes. Carolina was slow out of the gates, taking 4 penalties in the first and registering just 6 shots on goal. Things picked up for the rookie in the second as he made 10 saves and then 7 more in the third for a total of 23 saves. It was a huge win for the confidence of the team and their rookie goalie.
#3 – Ovechkin's Natural Hat Trick vs Kings – February 4, 2020
Alex Ovechkin, like most of the Caps on Feb. 4, was a complete non-factor in this game for 53 minutes. How could this be one of the best performances of the season, then? Because in those final seven minutes, Ovechkin scored a hat trick to save the Caps from a 2-1 defeat at the hands of an awful Los Angeles team and turned it into a 4-2 win for Washington. T.J. Oshie fed Ovechkin with a brilliant pass on the backdoor of goalie Jonathan Quick to get Ovechkin started. Suddenly the game was tied and Ovechkin could smell the blood in the water. Just seventy seconds later, Ovechkin fired a shot on Quick and he lost the rebound allowing Ovechkin to crash the net and slam the puck home. Ovechkin would add the empty netter to complete the miraculous natural hat trick.
#2 – Vrana lights the lamp thrice with WS Champion Nationals in attendance – November 3, 2019
Capitals fans who showed up to Capital One Arena on Nov. 3 thought they were coming to see a hockey game, but what they got was so much more than that. With the World Series champion Washington Nationals in the house and partying nearly as hard as their Capitals brethren after their Stanley Cup victory a summer earlier, Jakub Vrana netted his first-career hat trick as the Caps beat the Flames 5-2.
#1 – Ovechkin nets hat trick in final game before All-Star Break – January 18, 2020
If you turned off the game on Jan. 18 against the New York Islanders after the second period, you’re not alone. The Islanders were up 4-1 and Washington was getting absolutely dominated. Ovechkin’s tally, which tied him with Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in goals, was the team’s lone goal up to that point. Early in the second, however, Carl Hagelin scored to pull the Caps to within two. Ovechkin cut the lead to one with a goal that was more about will than skill as he pulled off a beautiful curl and drag, then deflected a puck off of defenseman Ryan Pulock and in. Ovechkin pulled off a great neutral zone move in the third period and netted an empty-netter for the hat trick.
Heading into this game, Ovechkin was one goal behind Lemieux for tenth in all-time in goals. By the end of the game, Ovechkin was tied with Steve Yzerman for ninth.
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