Did the news give him an extra bit of oomph? “Just a little jump,” Ovechkin said. “Not a big jump, but a little jump.”
Ovechkin turned that “little jump” into two goals and an assist Tuesday night in a 6-2 victory that gave the Washington Capitals the franchise’s first season sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Ovechkin, who leads the league with 28 goals, is the first Capitals player to be voted into the starting lineup since Rod Langway in 1986.
“I’m happy,” said Ovechkin, last season’s rookie of the year. “It’s a big honour for me, and for Capitals hockey and for Russian hockey, too.”
The Capitals won their third straight by showing no mercy on a neighbourhood rival that has given them fits for decades. Washington was winless (0-18-6) in its first six seasons against the Flyers and recently had a 16-game winless streak in Philadelphia.
But this season, with the Flyers at the bottom of the league standings, the Capitals are perfect – 4-0 – against Philadelphia for the first time in Washington’s 32 NHL seasons. On Tuesday, they took advantage of a goaltender who gave up a soft early goal and apologized for losing the game.
“They’re going through some tough times this year – like us last year,” said Washington veteran goaltender Olie Kolzig, who has endured many setbacks against the Flyers. “But obviously it’s a great accomplishment on our part. It shows we’re going in the right direction.”
Ben Clymer scored on the game’s first shift, former Philadelphia enforcer Donald Brashear got his first goal of the season, Alexander Semin added his 22nd goal, and Brian Sutherby also netted for the Capitals. Kolzig made 31 saves and was especially impenetrable when the Flyers had a fruitless 5-on-3 advantage for 1:23 during the second period.
Ovechkin also assisted on Semin’s goal, giving him nine goals and 16 points in eight career games against Philadelphia. He has 12 goals and 32 points in his last 18 games overall.
Kyle Calder scored the two third-period consolation goals – one on a power play, the other short-handed – for the Flyers, who lost their fourth straight and finished 3-5 on their season-long, eight-game road trip. Captain Peter Forsberg missed his fourth straight game with a strained groin; Philadelphia is 0-13-3 when he’s not in the lineup.
The Flyers coaching staff held a candid, air-it-out meeting with team’s veterans before practice in Washington on Monday, but whatever inspiration they might have drawn from it dissipated 15 seconds into the game when goaltender Robert Esche allowed a soft goal on Clymer’s slap shot. Esche misjudged the puck and allowed it to trickle between his side and left arm.
A few minutes later, Ovechkin made it to 2-0 after finding himself unmarked near the Flyers’ net. Ovechkin lifted the puck over Esche at the near post.
“All of us know I could’ve stopped both those pucks,” Esche said. “They can’t go in. We’ve been struggling all season, and the ownership comes from guys like myself, and it can’t happen. … I’m going to wake up tomorrow and start all over and get back on the horse or whatever, but right now I’m just extremely frustrated and upset. I apologize to the coaches who had a good game plan and the players who played well.”
In the second period, Ovechkin got his second goal in a similar manner – skating behind the net to pounce on a loose puck with no one marking him. Less than a minute later, Brashear poked a shot that trickled over Esche’s shoulder, down the goalie’s back and over the goal line. A video review was required to verify Brashear’s first goal since March 25, 2006, when he was with the Flyers.
Semin scored on a power play in the third period, his fifth goal in three games.
“Today could have been a real pivotal game for us,” Philadelphia coach John Stevens said. “We could have made something out of our trip, but now we go home not feeling so good.”
Notes: A boisterous contingent from the D.C. United fan club decided to give hockey a try Monday night. The “Barra Brava” took over most of a section in the upper deck and behaved like soccer fans – standing, singing and chanting for most of the game. … Players from Washington’s AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, were on hand as the Capitals honoured the team that won the Calder Cup last season. … The Capitals went 3-1 on a four-game homestand. … Before the game, the Flyers recalled D Jussi Tomnen from the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL.