WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was a known fact heading into Wednesday that the Washington Capitals’ season opener against the New York Rangers would be a memorable one. While the presumption was a physical, tension-filled showdown, the Capitals had different plans. An offense-filled night in the final 40 resulted in a 5-1 victory full of milestones to open Washington’s 2021-22 campaign.
Here are all the takeaways from Wednesday’s showdown.
Gr8ness Continues: Ovechkin Stuns As He Continues Chasing No. 99
Alex Ovechkin was a game-time decision, but nothing was holding him back from the get-go. The 36-year-old was flying out there, generating high-quality chances and going hard after the puck. He picked up two assists on the Capitals’ first two power-play goals to reach 500 career power-play points.
Ovechkin then scored his first goal of the season off a rebound on a third-period power-play and then struck shorthanded on a beautiful forehand-to-backhand play in front to extend the lead to 5-1.
With those two tallies, Ovechkin passed Marcel Dionne for fifth on the NHL’s all-time goals list. Here’s more on where he stacks up now in pursuit of Wayne Gretzky.
“I just enjoy my time. Of course, it’s huge privilege being on that list, but as I say all the time, game by game, day by day,” Ovechkin said.
Ovechkin finished the night with a league-leading four points and three shots through 20:17 minutes on the ice.
Dionne also paid tribute to Ovechkin on the jumbotron at Capital One Arena after No. 8 passed him.
Hendrix Lapierre Makes Most Of The Moment
The 19-year-old cracked Washington’s opening night roster following a stellar training camp and won a jersey for Wednesday’s tilt. He was centering Conor Sheary and T.J. Oshie on the third line, and despite nerves to start, he grew more comfortable as the game went on.
His line generated a few high-quality chances after a relatively quiet start to the game, and at the 13:02 mark of the second period, Lapierre charged into the offensive zone, picking up a backhander from T.J. Oshie and firing it right past Alexandar Georgiev.
Lapierre said he didn’t see the goal at first but heard it when the goal horn went off and his teammates and the building went ecstatic.
“It’s pretty special… when I called that puck, I knew it was coming,” Lapierre said. “And then the celebration after when Osh put me in his arms, it was pretty special. Just a great great moment… it means a lot.”
OMG LAPPY GOAL! pic.twitter.com/8JVyK2By2Y
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 14, 2021
He also said it’s rewarding to get on the board and to also share the spotlight with his childhood idol in Ovechkin, and that he wants to continue to get games in and fine-tune all different aspects of his play.
“[After the draft] I really wanted to show everyone what kind of player I was, that even if I had a tough year, it wasn’t gonna affect me,” Lapierre said of his progress since a rough 2019-20 “So I came to camp with a goal in mind and everyone’s really helpful here. I feel like I’ve grown a lot not only as a player but as a person too.”
Lapierre finished with a goal, two shots, two PIM and 8:55 TOI.
Special Teams Thrive For Washington
Despite some struggles over last season, the Capitals’ power play got rolling and didn’t stop going from there. Washington moved the puck well, displayed patience, made smart passes and got contributions from multiple players. Evgeny Kuznetsov was the mastermind behind a lot of it, making outstanding passes and finding the right people at the right time. He picked up three helpers, and also set Ovechkin up on his shorthanded goal.
The Capitals went 3-for-6 on the power play and 4-for-5 on the penalty kill. No. 92 also impressed while playing down a man. Martin Fehervary also did a great job on the PK, stationing himself in the right areas, winning battles and maintaining a physical presence.
Vitek Vanecek Closes The Door
Vanecek was outstanding between the pipes in his first game. The 25-year-old capitalized on his opportunity as the Capitals opening night starter, coming up with a handful of big saves and tracking the puck well. There’s still work to be done with rebound control, but he appeared confident and collected in goal.
He stopped 23 of 24 shots for a .958 save percentage to kick off his season.
More Top Shelf Takes:
- Head coach Peter Laviolette picked up his 657th career win to pass John Tortorella as the winningest U.S.-born coach in NHL history.
- T.J. Oshie picked up a goal and an assist and was one of three Capitals with a multi-point showing to open the season.
- Anthony Mantha picked up an assist, and counting the preseason, has points in his last three games.
- Justin Schultz led all Capitals skaters with six shots and had a power-play goal for Washington.
- Kuznetsov led all forwards in TOI (21:22) and looked stellar, showcasing incredible speed and playmaking ability. He also looked solid on the penalty kill. Again, I think we’re seeing a new look Kuznetsov this season.
- There were a few scrums/exchanges of words, but no fights took place in Wednesday’s opener. Washington stayed disciplined in that area, and the only instance was early on when Trevor van Riemsdyk and Sammy Blais engaged in fisticuffs and each went off for roughing (double-minor penalties). Said Ovechkin: “What happened past I think it’s over. We understand it was a hockey game and we understand if there was gonna be fights, we were ready. If not, we were ready too. I think we handle it well and good result.”