WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin scored almost at will against the Montreal Canadiens and took a few steps closer to Wayne Gretzky’s NHL scoring record.
Ovechkin recorded his 30th career hat-trick to speed up his pursuit of Gretzky’s mark, Charlie Lindgren made 31 saves against his NHL first team, and the Washington Capitals looped around Montreal en route to a 9-2 win.
With his 24th goal of the season, Ovechkin has scored at least 24 goals in each of his 18 NHL seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. His least was 24 in 45 games in 2020-21.
When asked if he enjoys playing against the Canadians, having scored 37 goals in 53 games against them, Ovechkin replied, “No, I just like playing hockey.” He and the Capitals enjoyed every bit of that game.
Ovechkin’s 804th, 805th, and 806th career goals put him 88 behind Gretzky’s record of 894, which long seemed unattainable. He has six goals in four games and has 26 goals this season after halftime in his 10th season with 50 goals, which would be one more than ‘The Great One’.
Lindgren stopped former Canadian teammate Nick Suzuki on a breakaway under a handful of key stops to win for a ninth time in his last 10 starts. An undrafted free agent signed by Montreal, Lindgren is unbeaten in two games against the organization with which he spent his first five pro seasons.
“They had a few chances but I thought we did a great job on the break and of course we put the puck in the net well,” said Lindgren. “I have a lot of respect for a lot of the guys on the team there. But beating your old team definitely feels a little bit sweeter.”
The Capitals dominated, missing a short stretch from the end of the first period to around five minutes of the second. They made the Canadians look helpless and random in their own zone, and on their seventh goal, several Washington players made laps around the Montreal defenders before Marcus Johansson scored.
Erik Gustafsson, Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd scored before Ovechkin made it 4-1, center Dylan Strome scored a power play goal late in the second minute and Anthony Mantha added a goal. Washington has won 11 of 13 to go from a struggle through injury to a solid playoff position and should soon have reinforcements in the form of forwards Tom Wilson, Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie, who are on the verge of returning from injuries.
“The way we played all December shows how good we are,” said Gustafsson, who had six goals and six assists during the best seven-game scoring streak of a Capitals season. “And if we can keep that going – we have big players coming back early – it’s a fun track we have here.”
Cole Caufield scored his 20th and 21st goals of the season for the Canadiens in their fifth straight loss. He is the first Montreal player to score 20 goals in 37 of fewer games since Martin Rucinsky and Brian Savage in 1995/96.
“He’s pretty good – I’ll just leave it at that,” said Lindgren. “He’s got a few tonight but yeah he’s a great hockey player.”
Jake Allen allowed nine goals on 38 shots for the Canadians, who lost eight of nine. Coach Martin St. Louis took some blame for letting Allen throughout the game instead of drawing him.
“I probably could have helped him,” St. Louis said. “They got eight, nine, four minutes to go at that point, I think I had passed the point of no return in that department. But I think as a young coach this is a learning experience for me.”
The Capitals will wrap up their three games against the Buffalo Sabers Tuesday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/35356031/ovechkin-30th-career-hat-trick-paces-capitals-home-victory Ovechkin’s 30th career hat trick paces Capitals’ home victory