Alex Ovechkin moved closer to 600 career goals and the Washington Capitals put on an offensive showcase in beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 outdoors Saturday night at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Ovechkin scored his 40th goal of the season and 598th of his career. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Jakub Vrana also scored for Washington, which hardly looked like a team that had recently lost four of six to shrink its large lead atop the Metropolitan Division.
The Capitals got 27 saves from Braden Holtby in their second consecutive victory. They improved to 3-0-0 in outdoor games.
The Capitals were lights out well before the lights went out at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, a power surge that caused a roughly 15-minute delay midway through the third period. The lopsided effort sent many fans to the exits at the second intermission, though some of those remaining used their cellphones to light the stadium during the extended stoppage.
Ovechkin became the sixth player in NHL history with nine-plus 40-goal seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky, Marcel Dionne, Mario Lemieux, Mike Gartner and Mike Bossy. Carlson got first-star honours with a goal and two assists.
The offensive fireworks of the first two periods – including three goals in the first 6:19 – matched the pomp and circumstance of the NHL's first game at a U.S. service academy. Navy midshipmen and Canadian servicemen and women took part in a patriotic pregame ceremony capped off by a memorable flyover with only the afterburners visible against the night sky.
In one of the best-themed outdoor games to date, the game was played on a rink on top of a facsimile of an aircraft carrier with a replica jet stationed in one corner. Capitals coach Barry Trotz wore a dark Navy cap with a gold "N" on the front as he stood in front of the lit up names of several battles, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Playing in windy conditions that kept teams from practicing on this rink before the game, the Capitals didn't appear at all bothered by the significant change from indoor hockey. They actually thrived on the big stage to earn two important points in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Washington's power play went 2 for 2 and five goals on 25 shots was enough to chase Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen 11:10 into the second period. It's the fourth consecutive game and eighth of the past nine in which Andersen allowed three-plus goals and his eighth overall giving up five or more, but this was the first time coach Mike Babcock pulled him for performance reasons this season.
NOTES: Curtis McIlhenney stopped all nine shots he faced in relief of Andersen. ... The gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic men's curling team delivered the puck for the ceremonial faceoff by curling it to centre ice. John Shuster's rink and the gold-medal-winning U.S. women's hockey team were honoured as part of the festivities. ... Maple Leafs centre Tomas Plekanec became the first player in NHL history to appear in an outdoor game with two different teams in the same season. Plekanec played for the Montreal Canadiens in the Centennial Classic in December. Former Canadiens teammate Jakub Jerabek could have joined him, but the defenceman was a healthy scratch for the Capitals. ... Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews missed his fourth consecutive game with an apparent right shoulder injury. ... Deputy commissioner Bill Daly says the NHL hopes to stage outdoor games at Army's West Point and the Air Force Academy
Maple Leafs: At Buffalo on Monday night.
Capitals: At Anaheim on Tuesday night.