Tuesday was a big night for Alex Ovechkin, but also for Capitals forward Axel Jonsson-Fjallby. Almost lost amid the celebration of Ovechkin's historic 767th goal was a goal scored less than five minutes beforehand. It was Jonsson-Fjallby's first career NHL goal and he picked a hell of a night to do it.
“First goal he does it on a night when Ovi moves into third [all time]," head coach Peter Laviolette said.
Trailing by one in the third period, Dmitry Orlov intercepted a pass in the defensive zone and pushed up ice. Jonsson-Fjallby joined him on the 2-on-2 rush. Orlov deked New York Islanders forward Anders Lee in the neutral zone creating a 2-on-1, then made a fantastic pass to set up Jonsson-Fjallby for the game-tying goal.
"It felt good," Jonsson-Fjallby said. "I felt like it took me long enough. But it was a great feeling."
Tuesday was only Jonsson-Fjallby's 14th NHL game, but it has been quite the journey to get there.
A fifth-round draft pick in 2016, Jonsson-Fjallby is no longer waiver eligible and was actually claimed by the Buffalo Sabres in training camp when he was placed on waivers to send to Hershey. A visa issue prevented him from playing in any preseason games for the Sabres and he was actually placed back on waivers and reclaimed by the Caps. He made his NHL debut on Nov. 8 and played very well in his first few NHL opportunities.
"Axel has played great for us," Laviolette said. "He uses his speed and he competes hard."
By rule, a player who has cleared waivers becomes waiver eligible again once he has played in 10 NHL games. Not wanting to risk losing a budding NHL player, the Caps sent Jonsson-Fjallby back to the AHL after just nine NHL games.
But despite the twists and turns of Jonsson-Fjallby's journey this season, he has taken it all in stride.
"I think me being claimed by Buffalo gave me confidence because then I knew people saw me as maybe I could play NHL," Jonsson-Fjallby said. "And coming back, you know, it was fine for me and I still have the confidence so I felt great playing in Hershey and then getting called up was great for my confidence."
When Carl Hagelin suffered a severe eye injury, Jonsson-Fjallby was called up soon after. By recalling him and playing him in a 10th game, the Caps sent a clear message: Jonsson-Fjallby was here to stay.
"This time getting called up and playing my 10th game was kind of a relief," he said. "And it makes me more comfortable and I can play my game."
On most nights, Jonsson-Fjallby's first career goal would have felt more significant, but it was overshadowed by yet another Ovechkin milestone.
Just like he has all season, however, Jonsson-Fjallby took it in stride.
"I'll beat him probably," he said of Ovechkin. Just 766 more goals to go.