WASHINGTON – By the time the game was 77 seconds old, Alex Ovechkin scored the first time his stick touched the puck, earning “MVP!” chants from all those red-clad fans.
By the end of the first period, Mike Knuble added a power-play tally, and Brooks Laich tied Ovechkin for the team lead with his third goal of the young season. By the end of the second period, Alexander Semin collected two goals, and Brendan Morrison one.
If two-time league MVP Ovechkin and the rest of Washington’s top two lines score at the rate they did to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-4 Saturday night, it won’t matter what the name of the Capitals goalie is.
“You felt like you were in a piranha fish tank,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. “We were getting quality scoring chances, without a doubt, but you can’t trade chance for chance with a team like that.”
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau was pleased with the way his team played for the first two periods of its home opener, building a five-goal lead.
The final 20 minutes? Another story.
“It was a great start, but we have to learn how to win 6-1 when we’re in that position, not try to win 9-1. Hopefully it was a cheap lesson for us,” Boudreau said. “Our guys are bummed out because of it, because they want to take pride in their defence.”
Semyon Varlamov – who went by “Simeon” as a rookie last season – made 27 saves and wasn’t blamed by Boudreau for the late flurry of scoring. Varlamov could find himself in a goalie rotation with Jose Theodore, who started Washington’s first game, a 4-1 victory at Boston Thursday.
Boudreau was asked whether he’d made up his mind about who will start in goal the next couple of games.
“Yep,” Boudreau replied.
Will he reveal his plan?
“No,” Boudreau replied.
Said Varlamov, through a translator: “I can’t say I feel any pressure. The first game Jose played, he won. The first game I played, I won.”
That is true, although things were shaky down the stretch. Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak, Mikhail Grabovski and Niklas Hagman scored for Toronto, which lost its season opener Thursday, 4-3 in overtime against Montreal.
This one was hardly that close. Ovechkin started things by taking a pass from Nicklas Backstrom near centre ice, zooming past the blue line and using defenceman Luke Schenn to screen goalie Vesa Toskala.
It was Washington’s first shot of the game and gave the guy they call Alex the Great eight goals in five home openers since entering the league. He skated over to the boards and slammed his body into the glass.
Ovechkin is trying to join Wayne Gretzky (1980-87) and Bobby Orr (1970-72) as the only players to have won the Hart Trophy three years in a row. The Russian certainly appears to be headed in the right direction: He added two assists Saturday and has three goals and three assists through two games.
Backstrom’s two assists against Toronto gave him a season total of five.
And Washington scored on three of its first seven shots.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Toskala, replaced in net by Jonas Gustavsson at the start of the second period. “It seems everywhere they go, the puck is following them.”
With all-star defenceman Mike Komisarek – one of several additions to a Toronto team that missed the playoffs the past four years – in the penalty box, the Capitals made it 2-0 only 9:12 into the game. Knuble’s power-play goal was precisely the sort of scoring he was supposed to add: grinding it out in the crease, getting his stick on a loose puck in front.
“That’s kind of what I do,” said Knuble, like Morrison a free-agent signing this off-season.
“It’s good for the new guys get on the board. Alex and Nick and Alex kind of do what they do. So for us to do well, if somebody figures out how to shut those guys down, there’s got to be secondary scoring. We’ve got to provide that.”
It was Washington’s first game at home that meant anything since a 6-2 loss to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the second round of last season’s playoffs. Saturday’s action was preceded by a 3-minute video of highlights from 2008-09, then the unfurling of a red banner marking Washington’s second consecutive division title.
As the festivities closed, the home fans delivered a standing ovation. They would rise again to celebrate the end of the first period, the second and the third – yes, even the third, when Washington was outscored 3-0.
“We can talk all we want. If we’re not healthy – or we don’t get good goaltending – it won’t matter,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said. “We need really, really good goaltending.”
NOTES: Wilson said he will decide Monday which goalie will start Tuesday’s game against Ottawa. … Washington has won eight consecutive home openers.