WASHINGTON – The playoff-bound Chicago Blackhawks were coasting, and the out-of-it Washington Capitals were trying to act like a team that still had heart.
The result was a late-season game with a preseason feel, noteworthy for Alex Ovechkin’s NHL-leading 51st goal and a shutout from the goalie who was seemingly skittish about facing his former team earlier in the week.
Ovechkin and the Capitals beat the Blackhawks 4-0 on Friday night, an impressive-looking result that didn’t mean much. Washington still isn’t going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and Chicago is locked into finishing third in the Central Division.
“They’re getting prepared for the playoffs and resting up a bit,” Capitals forward Eric Fehr said, “so you don’t want to take too much out of a game like that.”
Jay Beagle had his first career two-goal game, and Nicklas Backstrom also scored as the Capitals won their fourth straight, a winning streak that’s rings hollow in D.C.
“We want to finish off good,” Backstrom said. “The last few games we’ve been playing all right, even if the games are a little more like a scrimmage.”
Ovechkin’s first-period goal—a one-timer from the back edge of the left circle—was his 24th on the power play, a Capitals franchise record and the most in the NHL since Steven Stamkos had 24 in the 2009-10 season. Ovechkin’s power-play output underscores his lack of scoring at even strength over the final six weeks of the season, as well as his minus-35 rating that is among the worst in the league.
“It’s pretty hard to be mentally ready for that kind of game. … But soon it’s going to be, like, five months, play golf and do some stuff,” Ovechkin said. “You’re probably going to miss hockey, so that’s why you give everything and enjoy your moment.”
Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves in his first shutout since the trade deadline deal that brought him to Washington from the St. Louis Blues. It was also his first game since a bizarre episode on Tuesday, when he didn’t play against the Blues because, according to Washington coach Adam Oates, the goalie wasn’t “100 per cent comfortable” with the prospect of facing his former team for the first time.
Halak’s agent disputed Oates’ account and said any private conversations between player and coach shouldn’t have been made public. Oates said before Friday’s game that he had spoken to Halak and things were “all good.”
After the game, Halak essentially ignored questions about the topic, other than to agree that he and Oates have worked things out.
“There’s no problem,” Halak said.
Meanwhile, about the only thing that can be said about the Blackhawks is that they actually participated in the game, and that’s probably a stretch.
“We’ll throw it in the garbage can,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ll learn a little bit from it, but certainly we’re not happy about the way things played out. But it was one of those games.”
Quenneville, who had planned to rest some players over the final two games, gave defenceman Duncan Keith the night off and subbed goalie Corey Crawford after two periods. Still, forward Patrick Sharp was looking for a bit more effort.
“It’s the NHL. We’re professionals,” Sharp said. “We should be ready to go.”
Chicago had its four-game winning streak snapped. The defending Stanley Cup champions have a potential concern as they prepare for a run at another title: They have lost eight of 10 on the road, scoring only 15 goals in those games.
“It’s just a game we can definitely look past and move on to the next one,” Crawford said. “I don’t know, let’s just forget about it. I don’t know what else to day.”
NOTES: Capitals C Marcus Johansson didn’t return after getting hit in the left hand with the puck in the second period. He will also miss Sunday’s season finale. … Beagle’s two goals doubled his season output. His four goals match his career high.
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