The Winnipeg Jets soared into Capital One Arena on Monday night in third place in the Western Conference and with their eyes on a long postseason run. Would they be cleared for landing, or could Washington’s anti-aircraft guns keep them at bay?
Here’s Monday night’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: Alex Ovechkin further solidified his legendary status, scoring his 600th career goal and becoming just the 20th player ever to do so.
Minus: Patrik Laine also scored, keeping himself within just one of Ovechkin in the “Rocket” Richard Trophy race.
And now, this...
Ten more notes on the game:
1. So, the Capitals’ road trip to California went about as well as your first trip to California. Some good memories, but mostly a ton of bad decisions you’d like to forget. The Caps dropped two to the Ducks and Kings before taking a victory from the San Jose Sharks. How would Washington fare back at home against their fourth Western Conference foe in a row?
2. But the real showdown buzzing on everyone’s lips like honeybee butts was Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine vs. Alex Ovechkin. Having just tied Ovechkin for the league lead in goals with 40, would the 19-year-old, who idolizes Ovechkin and has stated he models his game after him, supplant Washington’s silver-maned alpha male? Or would the big cock of the roost show the Finnish chicky how to crow?
3. We wouldn’t have to wait long for our answer. Just four minutes into this contest, with Winnipeg’s Brian Little and Matt Hendricks (he of “Paralyzer” shootout fame in D.C.) both in the penalty box and Washington on a two-man advantage, the Capitals captain did what he was bred in a secret Russian lab to do: score goals. Ovechkin corralled a pass in the left circle, allowed a little time for foreplay, and then ripped a nasty wrister past Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and in to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. It was #599 for Ovechkin’s career, and #Ovi600Watch was officially at DEFCON 1.
4. But the good vibes were not to last long. With the scoring information still being read aloud over the Capital One Arena PA system, Washington’s Lars Eller looked to break out the offense. Instead of making a logical, open, momentum-conserving pass up the wing, he laid a drop pass backwards and towards the center of the blue line. Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers gathered it up like the manna from heaven it was, hit a quite rude deke, and beat Philipp Grubauer to tie it up 1-1 early. The score would hold until the first intermission.
5. Speaking of Grubauer, he got his third-straight start tonight. He is, as you know, filling in for former Vezina Trophy-winner Braden Holtby, whose game is going through a bit of a rough patch. Grubauer has the highest SV% in the league since the calendar rolled over to 2018, and he was fantastic again tonight, saving 26-of-28 for a .929 SV%.
6. With the crowd tingling in anticipation of Ovechkin’s next strike, the electricity inside Capital One Arena reached a fever pitch. Then, just three minutes into the second period, it happened. Tom Wilson threw a shot on net, and an in-position Ovechkin took one, two, and finally THREE swipes at it before chopping it over a belly-bound Hellebuyck and into the back of the net. Ovechkin cellied, and the crowd ROARED. Deafening chants of O-VI, O-VI met sustained cheering so loud and long it delayed the dropping of the puck. He is just the 20th player in NHL history to reach the 600-goal mark, and just the 6th player in history to do it all with one franchise. Congratulations, Ovi. You’re truly the Gr8est.
Asked after the game about his front-row seat to history, Tom Wilson said, “It’s crazy. I feel like it’s a new accomplishment, a new milestone every day, every week around here with him. It’s been a lot of fun to have a front-row seat to it, and I want to say I missed that on purpose so he could get to 600.”
What did he tell Ovechkin in the celebratory hug? “I was just screaming at him,” Wilson laughed. “I’ll always remember it, and everyone in the building will remember it. And I guess it’s on to 700.”
7. The 2-1 score held until the third period, when Winnipeg’s bearded dragon Patrik Laine reminded everyone, “Hey, I’m a plot line here, too!” Five minutes into the final frame, he caught a circle-to-circle pass from Paul Stastny all alone, and sized up Grubauer. Le Finn du Monde picked his corner, fired, and knotted the game 2-2. The goal was Laine’s 41st of the season, and keeps him within one of Alex Ovechkin (42) in the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy Race.
8. The double deuce held thanks to some late-game heroics from Grubauer and in spite of an unquenchable desire to scoar moar goals by Alex Ovechkin, and this contest treated the Washington faithful to some free hockey courtesy of.....OVERTIME!
9. And with time winding down EVGENY KUZNETSOV CAME TO THE RESCUE. The Boy Who Scored got loose on a breakaway at the blue line, gathered the puck, and calmly glided in with the cold clinical precision of a surgical assassin. Kuzy ripped a doozy into the back of the net, and sent Washington home with a victory, 3-2!
What did Kuzy see or feel on that breakaway goal? “I felt like my legs were fifteen years old,” the Russian laughed. “I don’t have a good overtime last like ten games, probably, and I just want to score that because I know that one point will make a huge difference at the end of the year.”
10. Washington’s special teams were excellent tonight, holding off a dangerous Winnipeg power play 3-of-3 times and cashing in on its own man-advantage once.
Asked after the game about Ovechkin’s milestone, Evgeny Kuznetsov said, “That’s huge, you know. When you look at those numbers here, you don’t even think, ‘Five ninety-nine, six hundred, eh...,’ but then when you understand, you go, ‘Holy f***, that’s a lot of goals,’ you know? I can’t score 20 in a year, this is six hundred!”
The Capitals get a much-needed two standings points, Ovechkin gets his 600th goal, and for a night, everything is golden in Capsland.