Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 20th goal of the season and assisted on another, helping the Washington Capitals snap their recent run of futility against the San Jose Sharks with a 4-1 victory Monday night.
The Capitals beat the Sharks for the fourth time in 18 meetings since Ovechkin entered the league in 2005-06. It’s just Washington’s second regulation win against San Jose in that time and first since Oct. 15, 2009. It ended a four-game skid in the series.
“It was a situation where everybody step up and everybody play for each other,” said Ovechkin, who considered Owen Nolan his favourite player and the Sharks his favourite team as a kid in Moscow. “I think we just move our feet. I think we have lots of speed in our game. We didn’t have lots of turnovers. We managed the puck well. That helps us a lot.”
Halting the Sharks’ recent mastery came at a cost: T.J. Oshie left in the second period with an upper-body injury and didn’t return. As Oshie was already engaged with Logan Couture and falling down along the boards, he took Joe Thornton’s backside to the head.
“He was just falling a little bit,” said Thornton, adding that he hopes Oshie makes a full recovery. “It’s not like I ran him or anything. I bumped him and it felt like my hip kind of hit him in the head. So it’s just unfortunate what happened.”
Washington coach Barry Trotz said the team would “go through all of the protocols” with Oshie as it does any injured player.
Tom Wilson took exception to Thornton’s hit and fought him in the third period of a chippy game that also included a fight between Alex Chiasson and Barclay Goodrow. Wilson called Thornton an “honest player” and one of his favourites to watch but wasn’t a fan of the hit that injured Oshie.
“He’s what’s good for the game, and in that instance, that hit, I didn’t like personally and I don’t think our team liked,” Wilson said. “Any times a guy is down, it’s kind of a no-hit zone.”
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer wasn’t happy that Wilson went after Thornton so long after the hit, calling it premeditated “garbage.” He and Capitals assistant Lane Lambert shouted expletives at each other after the fight between Wilson and Thornton.
“I think our group appreciated the fact you’ve got a 38-year-old Hall of Famer out there that’s basically forced into that by their coaches and their bench,” DeBoer said.
Before those tensions rose, Ovechkin continued his climb up the career list with his 578th goal, passing Hall of Famer Mark Recchi for 20th — in 703 fewer games. He only recently passed Mike Bossy and is now the 11th player in NHL history to score at least 20 goals in each of his first 13 seasons.
“You can’t even keep up with all the guys he passes: that Bossy guy and that Recchi guy today,” said goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who made 24 saves for his first career victory against San Jose. “He’s one of the best goal-scorers in the game and he knows where to put the puck. He’s dangerous and you can’t leave him alone that many times.”
Ovechkin scored on a rare backhander on a breakaway, turned several defenders inside out and made a perfect pass to set up Brett Connolly’s power-play goal. Ovechkin said he even surprised himself by going backhand to beat Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.
“I don’t have a good backhand, but it goes in,” Ovechkin said. “One worked. I’ll take it.”
Devante Smith-Pelly and Jakub Vrana also scored for Washington, which has won two in a row and six of eight.
Jones allowed four goals on 29 shots in his second game back from injury, and Timo Meier scored his first goal in eight games and third of the season.
“You win tonight, it would’ve been a great road trip,” Thornton said of the Sharks going 2-2-0. “Now it’s just an average road trip.”
NOTES: Connolly scored in back-to-back games since returning from being a healthy scratch for the previous two. … Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said D Paul Martin is close to returning from an undisclosed injury that has kept him out since Oct. 12. … Capitals F Travis Boyd made his NHL debut, replacing Chandler Stephenson, who’s day-to-day with an upper-body injury. … F Andre Burakovsky rejoined the Capitals for their morning skate as he works back from October surgery to repair his broken left thumb. He hopes to return within the next week.
Sharks: Return home to face the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night.
Capitals: Host the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night.