Highlights: Capitals 4, Blues 1
Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby knows what it’s like to see Alex Ovechkin barreling toward him with that look in his eye.
It was the same look Jaroslav Halak saw Sunday night early in the first period.
“His shot, if you haven’t seen it a lot, is tough to read,” Holtby said after turning aside a career-high 46 shots and watching Ovechkin score a pair of goals against Halak in the Caps’ 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.
“With his curve and the flex of his stick, the puck doesn’t usually come off flat. It’s more of a knuckler and it comes at you in a direction most shots don’t come.”
Ovechkin’s cannon blast past Halak 7:17 into Sunday night’s game might as well have been a shot across the bow. The fact Ovechkin followed it with another goal less than 6 minutes later and Mikhail Grabovski chased the 28-year-old Slovakian goaltender before the game was 16 minutes old … well, consider that a payback for the 2010 playoffs.
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“To be honest with you I didn’t think about that until now,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who set up each of Ovechkin’s goals, along with another by defenseman John Carlson. “He’s a great goalie. Some nights you’re going to be on top of your game some nights you’re not.”
Halak, who stopped 217 shots against the Capitals when he backstopped the Montreal Canadiens to a seven-game, first-round upset of the Caps in 2010, stopped just three of the Caps’ six shots before getting replaced by goalie Brian Elliott, who played less than 24 hours earlier in St. Louis.
“We expected them to be a little tired, but I don’t think those goals came from fatigue,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “I think we got rewarded from doing the right things.”
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The Blues pushed back in the second period when center Vladimir Sobotka scored a power play goal to make it 3-1.
“I really thought when it was 3-1 we were going to win the hockey game,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I thought we had them on their heels. They got that fourth goal and it kind of took the wind out of our sails.”
That fourth goal came on a power-play blast from Carlson, who now has five goals in his last eight games, two of them on the man-advantage.
Carlson’s big night came in front of Team USA assistant general manager Ray Shero and Team USA assistant coach Peter Laviolette, each of whom said they were keeping a close eye on the Olympic hopeful.
“If you watch the last 10 games, I don’t think it would be any question,” Oates said. “He and [Canadian Olympic hopeful Karl] Alzner are both playing fantastic hockey.”
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Carlson and Alzner also were matched against the Blues’ top line of Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie. Together, along with the forward line of Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer and Marty Erat, the Caps held Steen, Backes and Oshie to seven shots and no points, while hanging them with combined minus-4.
“When we’re going on all cylinders,” Oates said, “I think we frustrate players.”
By shutting down Alexander Steen and seeing Ovechkin notch a pair of goals for the fourth time this season, the Capitals captain moved into a tie with Steen for the league lead in goals with 17. For those counting, that puts him on a 70-goal pace.