Alexander Ovechkin once again took over a hockey game at a point where it could have gone either way to lead the Caps to a 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Mike Gartner night at the Verizon Center on Sunday Night. Ovechkin used his relentless determination to score the pivotal goal in this contest with 10 seconds left in the second period that gave the Caps a 2-1 lead and, after Brooks Laich provided an insurance goal (his second of the game) with just under five minutes to go, the Great #8 put the finishing touches on this win with his 25th goal of the season into an empty net with 34 seconds left in the contest. Laich’s two goals on the night now gives him 10 for the season and he earned the red “Hard Hat” award given out by his teammates after tonight’s game.
The Caps trailed in this game after the Leafs forward Niklas Hagman put a screened shot by Caps goalie Jose Theodore at 14:23 of the first period and if not for at least five big time stops by Theodore thereafter, Washington could have been down more. Laich would tie things up on the power play at 12:54 of the second period on a power move to the Leafs goal that resulted in #21 shoving the puck underneath Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala. Toskala, who made 25 saves on the night, was very good and lucky (Mike Green’s point blast in the first period hit the post) early on but the Caps simply had too much talent and firepower for a Toronto team that is attempting to rebuild and eventually pulled away in this contest, although it was not easy.
Theodore continued his very strong play of late getting his third straight win and he did another super job of preventing rebounds or making sure when they did occur they were cleared quickly and easily. I gave Jose an” A” grade on the night because for a 15 minute stretch from late in the first period and into the second period he kept this a one goal game. #60 had 23 saves on the evening.
Laich would have had a hat trick tonight had Leafs defensemen Tomas Kaberle not cut off the passing lane between #21 and Ovechkin which forced Ovie to shoot into the empty net and effectively end the game. Laich told me after the game he has never had a hat trick and he and Ovechkin playfully kidded each other about the Great #8 not passing while myself and a couple of other media members were present. In all seriousness though, and after Ovechkin headed into the shower, Laich said that the Great #8 did the right thing by burying the empty net goal and not forcing a pass to him for his first hat trick.
The win pushes the Caps overall record to 23-11-3, good for 49 points, second place overall in the Eastern Conference (behind the Boston Bruins) and a 10 point lead over the second place Carolina Hurricanes in the Southeast Division. The Caps are now 15-1-1 at the Verizon Center and tickets for Caps games are getting harder to obtain (at least 12 of the remaining games are already sold out) so if you want to go see the Great #8 and this fun team in person I suggest you get on the WNST Puck Bus (our next one is January 6th against the hated Philadelphia Flyers) or order tickets for another game quickly. Ovechkin and the Caps have become Can’t Miss Hockey.
I’ll have more on tonight’s game, including a conversation with rookie defensemen Karl Alzner (led the team in ice time tonight logging 22:39), plus some good stuff from Mike Gartner on his retirement ceremony and his Caps career in a blog tomorrow night.