NEW YORK, N.Y. – Unable to stop the New York Rangers all night, Alex Ovechkin and the slumping Washington Capitals could only put up a fight with their fists.
Artem Anisimov scored the first of three Rangers goals during a 3½-minute span early in the second period, and New York routed the frustrated Capitals 7-0 on Sunday.
Henrik Lundqvist made 31 saves for his fifth shutout this season and Ryan Callahan scored twice in the third period as the Rangers handed Washington its sixth consecutive defeat.
“I think we just have to relax,” said Ovechkin, who got in a rare fight in the second period. “I know it is huge pressure for us right now. Six games in a row. It’s big pressure for our players and coaches. We just have to relax and not think about the losing streak.”
Mired in a scoring slump, Ovechkin went toe-to-toe with New York’s Brandon Dubinsky in the second. The two-time NHL MVP left the game in the third period after being hit by a shot, but said afterward his knee was “OK.”
Ovechkin threw a hip check on Dan Girardi in the offensive zone, then skated up ice and dropped his gloves to go at Dubinsky, who landed multiple overhand rights before wrestling Ovechkin to the ice. The Capitals’ captain was booed every time he touched the puck following the fight.
Marian Gaborik and Dubinsky also scored early in the second to put the Rangers ahead 4-0. Marc Staal added a short-handed goal off a 2-on-1 with Brian Boyle at 10:42.
Brandon Prust opened the scoring at 17:57 of the first. Semyon Varlamov allowed all seven goals on 20 shots.
Washington, a pre-season Stanley Cup favourite, has dropped six in a row for the first time since March 2007. The last time the Capitals lost to the Rangers by at least seven goals was an 11-4 setback in March 1978.
“I don’t have an answer right now. It is unfamiliar territory. I think we have a lot of people feeling sorry for themselves,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “As you can tell, when you get down, teams aren’t feeling sorry for you. They’re pushing it on, piling it on. We have to find a way to get out of this, that’s all.”
The Rangers did their best imitation of the high-scoring Caps as they broke loose for four goals in the first 10:42 of the second period.
Anisimov snapped an Ovechkin-like shot through a defenceman’s legs and past Varlamov 59 seconds in. Gaborik increased the lead to 3-0 with a power-play tip of Staal’s shot at 3:07. Dubinsky scored his 14th of the season at 4:30, and Staal connected at 10:42 on a smooth move after a nice pass from Boyle.
“When you play the right way and don’t get rewarded you need to get rewarded for (the players) to continue to buy into it,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “I thought we dictated how the game was going to be played.”
Washington responded with its fists. Matt Hendricks fought Mike Sauer at centre ice 44 seconds after Dubinsky’s goal, but that was only the undercard to the Ovechkin-Dubinsky main event at 9:43.
“I just saw (Dubinsky) coming. It’s just a moment in a game. Nothing special,” Ovechkin said.
Dubinsky didn’t think the brawl was anything particularly unusual, either.
“I think we have a mutual respect for each other. I really respect how he plays and how hard he plays and obviously his skill level,” Dubinsky said. “At the same time, I saw one of my teammates on the ice and wanted to protect him. Whether it is him or anyone else, I don’t like to see my teammates on the ice.”
Hendricks and Sean Avery also fought with 5:26 left after the Washington centre jabbed the Rangers’ agitator between the legs with his stick. After the fight, Avery yelled and gestured toward Hendricks.
Ovechkin, who has three goals in Washington’s last 16 games, was limited to four shots in 16:01 while matched up against the Girardi-Staal defensive pairing.
NOTES: Ovechkin has 12 goals and 36 points this season. … Washington called up Andrew Gordon from AHL Hershey for the game. The leading goal scorer in the AHL, the 25-year-old Gordon had played in three previous NHL games in his career. … Boudreau sat some of his veterans in the third period with the game out of reach. “This isn’t the situation I want to be getting ice time in,” Gordon said. “When you’re down 7-0 and you’re getting double-shifted, it’s not because you’re playing well. I want to show that I can play and that I can work. At the same time, I gladly would have sat back and played 4 minutes if we would have won this game.”