ST. PAUL, Minn. — Scoring more than 500 goals in the NHL hasn’t come without Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin being opportunistic. Thursday night was another example of being in the right place at the right time – with an unrivaled scoring touch.
Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and Washington held on to beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3.
“It’s incredible, the puck just comes to him,” said teammate Nicklas Backstrom, who assisted on all three goals. “But he has that ability when it comes, to put it in the net. It’s hard to do.”
Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road. Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.
Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).
“If this wasn’t really maddening and really frustrating, it would almost be comical the way things are going right now,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said.
Ovechkin, who took the league lead with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. He said he recently spoke with his parents, who told him he needed another hat trick. He followed Thursday with his first since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.
“It’s a good feeling,” Ovechkin said. “Obviously, when you get one, when you get the second one it’s pretty cool. But when you have three goals in one game, it’s kind of special.”
Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.
It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the player with 509 career goals capitalized on each opportunity.
A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice and right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle. Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.
“Every single puck ends up on his tape and he doesn’t make a mistake,” Dubnyk said. “That puck off the wall, I don’t think anybody else on the ice is putting that one in the net.”
The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.
Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses, and has allowed at least four goals in six of the past seven games.
“Getting tired of it, really,” Coyle said. “We’ve got to find ways. You keep seeing we’re taking strides and that’s the positive thing to do, and I think we are. But we’ve got to get that end result.”
NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Granlund off a faceoff. Trotz didn’t have an update after the game. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.