Maybe Maria Kirilenko needs to stop playing tennis and start watching hockey.
With his new fiancé watching from the stands, Alex Ovechkin put on his most impressive offensive performance of the season Saturday afternoon, scoring his first hat trick in more than two years in the Capitals’ 5-1 win over the Devils.
“That must be the reason,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said. “He’s trying to impress.”
Ovechkin’s three-goal game was his first since Jan. 22, 2011 and his first hat trick at Verizon Center since Feb. 7, 2010 in the famous Super Bowl Sunday Snowmageddon win over the Penguins.
Ovechkin threw himself into the glass after his first goal opened the scoring in the second period, then roared his approval after his next two, breaking into a big gap-toothed smile.
“Be honest with you I kind of forgot what Rock the Red means,” Ovechkin said after the game. “The fans, a couple games ago, before a game I said you have to cheer us, you have to push us forward. It’s a hard time for us and we need everybody to be involved. Tonight it was that kind of game.”
The Caps [6-10-1] and Devils [10-4-4] surrendered only a handful of scoring chances in the first two periods, with Ovechkin and fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk trading goals.
Ovechkin, who entered the game ranked second in the NHL in shots with 68 but 56th in goals with five, broke out in the third period, firing a wrist shot through the legs of Anton Volchenkov and past Johan Hedberg’s stick side to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.
“That’s vintage Alex,” Eric Fehr said. “I hope we see a lot more of that.”
Fehr followed Ovechkin’s goal with perhaps the biggest goal of the hockey game. With the Devils on the power play because of John Erskine’s delay of game penalty Fehr went behind the Devils net to strip Hedberg of the puck and stuff it into the empty cage.
“Obviously, that two-goal cushion is big,” said Capitals coach Adam Oates.
With the crowd juiced, Ovechkin encouraged many of the fans to lose their lids when he fired a Mike Ribeiro pass over Hedberg’s right shoulder for a 4-1 lead with 4:47 remaining.
“He’s been driving the D back, hitting, playing with emotion. That’s a big part of his game,” Ribeiro said with a smile. “He’s been working, working, working, There are some more things he can do in the game, but if he keeps shooting like that I’ll keep playing defense for him.”
Braden Holtby, who made a huge stop on Steve Bernier’s penalty shot in the second period, said it’s what the Capitals have come to expect of Ovechkin.
“Emotion, that’s his whole game,” Holtby said. “It brings the team up when you see that. That’s what we expect out of him, being a captain, to score those goals. Great captains always lead by example and if he can bring that energy every night that’s what we need.”
And maybe a few more appearances from a certain professional tennis player.
“Unfortunately, she has a tournament coming up,” Ovechkin said of Kirilenko, “but she’s going to be in America. It’s good.”