Alex Ovechkin scored goal No. 750 and the Capitals held on for a 3-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday to snap a two-game skid.
Here are some observations from the game.
Attacking the rookie
With Joonas Korpisalo on injured reserve and the Blue Jackets playing again on Sunday, goalie Danil Tarasov made his NHL debut in net for Columbus. Within the first 13 minutes, he was given two welcome-to-the-NHL moments as he stopped an Ovechkin one-timer from the office on the power play and gloved down a shot from Evgeny Kuznetsov.
The Capitals ultimately got the better of him.
As a rookie, Tarasov's rebound control was all over the map. A bouncing puck came to him and he swept it away with his stick right into the slot. A waiting Aliaksei Protas took advantage with the early goal. In the second, Ovechkin entered the offensive zone and the Blue Jackets defense gave him room to skate. That was all he needed. An Ovechkin shot is difficult for a seasoned veteran goalie. With room to work, Tarasov had no chance as Ovechkin fired a wrister to beat him clean blocker-side.
Tarasov had a decent game with 29 saves on 31 shots, but his team could not generate enough offense to help him.
A shutdown second, a nail-biter third
The Caps did a great job defensively of keeping Columbus to the outside in the first 20 minutes. They did an even better job in the second period allowing just three shots on goal.
This was the point Washington really took control.
It was important to see the Caps build on a good first period as we have seen them take their foot off the gas a few times in the past few games and it cost them in losses to the Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks. In the second on Saturday, Washington put the hammer down on defense and extended the lead to 2-0.
The Caps had a four-goal lead in the third against Florida on Tuesday. They had a one-goal lead against Chicago on Thursday. Washington lost both games. You knew a strong third would be a point of emphasis on Saturday as they entered the final frame with a 2-0 lead. It did not start out well as Eric Robinson made it 2-1 just 6:28 into the third. The Caps again took control and finished off a strong defensive performance, allowing only 18 shots on goal on the night.
With a number of lineup changes, Protas did not line up on the top line as he has the past few games. Instead, he centered the fourth. Despite that, he still managed to get on the board with a goal within the first five minutes of the game.
Protas now has two goals and two assists in his last five games.
Garnet Hathaway scored the empty-netter to put this game away, giving him seven goals in 12 games.
Another win for Samsonov
Ilya Samsonov recorded 17 saves and improved to 10-1-1 on the season. He did allow one soft goal in the second to Yegor Chinakhov, but was bailed out when the play was challenged and deemed offside. Otherwise, it was another strong performance for the Caps netminder.
Oshie, Sheary return
There was more lineup shuffling on Saturday in the never-ending musical chairs that is the Caps' roster this season. Nic Dowd and Trevor van Riemsdyk were both unavailable due to NHL COVID-19 protocols. Luckily for Washington, both T.J. Oshie and Conor Sheary were ready to return from injury. In their first action since Nov. 20, Oshie recorded three hits with 16:23 of ice time. Sheary had two shots on goal and another three shot attempts, plus one hit in 15:48 of ice time.
Sheary nearly scored early on in the game but was denied by a great save from Tarasov. He also hit the crossbar later in the first.
With van Riemsdyk out, Matt Irwin made his Caps debut on Saturday. He played 17:49 with a whopping five shots on goal.
The chase for Gretzky
Ovechkin's goal Saturday was his 20th of the season and 750th of his career. He is just the fourth player in NHL history to score 750 and the second-fastest to do so. It took him just 1,222 games. Only Wayne Gretzky did it faster in just 1,001 games.
Ovechkin's 750 puts him 16 goals away from Jaromir Jagr who sits at No. 3 and 144 from Gretzky's record of 894.