By Tom Gulitti – NHL.com
Alex Ovechkin was one of maybe a handful of people in Verizon Center sitting down.
The Washington Capitals captain wasted no time getting his 1,000th NHL point, scoring 35 seconds into a 5-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, and the crowd was giving him a standing ovation.
Ovechkin’s teammates joined in, standing and banging their sticks against the boards. But Ovechkin remained seated until Nicklas Backstrom did what he has done so often during their 10 seasons together and provided an assist, shoving his longtime linemate in the backside to get him to stand.
“I think he was tired from his shift, so I had to push him up,” Backstrom said jokingly.
With the fans chanting “Ovi! Ovi!”, Ovechkin stood and raised his left hand to acknowledge them.
“He should be honored like that if you reach 1,000 in this amount of games he has,” Backstrom said. “It’s pretty impressive. All the credit to him. He’s an unreal player and he’s been fun to watch.”
Ovechkin became the 84th player in NHL history to score 1,000 points, the 37th to do so with one franchise, and the first to do it all with the Capitals (546 goals, 455 assists). He did it in his 880th NHL game, making him the second-fastest active player behind Jaromir Jagr (763 games), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“After [the] Montreal game, I knew [I’d] have a chance to reach 1,000 points in front of the fans and my family and people who are back home watching on TV,” Ovechkin said. “It’s a pretty special moment, pretty amazing moment.”
After he reached 999 points with a goal and two assists in a 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Monday, Ovechkin’s parents, wife and brother were at Verizon Center to see him go for 1,000 against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Ovechkin demonstrated his flair for living up to dramatic moments by scoring in Montreal and tying Canadiens legend Maurice Richard with his 544th goal, 29th in NHL history.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he told Ovechkin after that game that, “It was really sort of cool that he tied Maurice Richard in Montreal, but I think it’s only fitting that you get the 1,000th point here for our fans.”
“So he did it, and he didn’t take much time,” Trotz said.
After taking a pass from Backstrom on a 2-on-1, Ovechkin carried the puck into the Penguins zone on the right wing and then cut into the slot before taking a wrist shot that sailed past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury‘s glove.
“Well, it took him long enough. That’s what we were thinking,” Capitals right wing Justin Williams said. “I just shook my head. I’m not shocked about anything he does.”
The goal gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead.
“That was a great start for him and for us,” Trotz said. “He sort of had that look in his eye once he touched the puck that something good was going to happen. So real happy for him. I know the guys were thrilled for him and a little history.”
Ovechkin scored a power-play goal, point No. 1,001, from his signature spot in the left circle 8:06 into the second period to make it 2-0. Backstrom assisted on that one too.
It seemed most appropriate that he got one on Ovechkin’s 1,000th point. Backstrom has assisted on 204 of 448 of the goals Ovechkin has scored (46 percent) since Backstrom joined the Capitals in 2007-08.
“He’s the guy who I enjoy playing with and we understand each other well,” Ovechkin said. “Good chemistry together.”
Ovehckin is up to 21 goals, tying him for third in the NHL and within five of Crosby for the League lead, and has seven goals and five assists in the past 10 games. But he’s far from a one-man show.
Backstrom had a goal and three assists Wednesday and has two goals and six assists in the past four games. Williams scored his 12th goal of the season and has 10 goals and eight assists in his past 18 games. Evgeny Kuznetsov who assisted on Williams’ goal, has two goals and seven assists in his past five games. Goaltender Braden Holtby has allowed three goals over his past four games.
With a seven-game winning streak and a 14-2-2 record in their past 18 games, the Capitals reached the midway point of their schedule at 27-9-5 with 59 points, one behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings.
The Capitals also jumped two points ahead of the Penguins, who have a game in hand, and ended Pittsburgh’s five-game winning streak with their second regulation loss in their past 17 games (13-2-2).
“We’re winning, but I hope the best hockey’s going to be a little bit later,” Ovechkin said.
Player better later, meaning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, is all that matters for Ovechkin and the Capitals this season. They ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy and set a Washington record with 56 wins last season only to lose to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Second Round.
They’ve been trying to build as the season has progressed and have been flying under the radar with the Blue Jackets, Penguins, who are reigning Stanley Cup champions, and New York Rangers grabbing most of the Metropolitan headlines.
Although the Capitals seemed to make a statement by ending the Blue Jackets’ 16-game winning streak with a 5-0 win last Thursday and defeating the red-hot Penguins, they say that was not their intent.
“No, absolutely not,” Backstrom said. “We’re just trying to play our game quietly. So don’t write anything about it.”