Alex Ovechkin had his first hat trick in more than two years Saturday to help the Washington Capitals defeat a team in the top eight of the Eastern Conference for the first time this season.
Ovechkin's first three-goal effort since Jan. 22, 2011 helped the Capitals to a 5-1 victory against the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center. The win moved Washington past the Buffalo Sabres and out of last place in the conference, and the Capitals are now 1-8-1 against the current top eight in the East.
"The chances are there. Sometimes I feel that the puck just doesn’t want to go in," Ovechkin said. "Today, it was that kind of game that almost every shot goes in, or at least it feels like that. It’s kind of nice."
The Capitals captain also assisted on a late goal by Troy Brouwer to give him a four-point game for the first time since Feb. 4, 2011.
Ovechkin put the Capitals in front, 1-0, 5:20 into the second period. Jason Chimera sent the puck from the right wall into the slot to Mike Ribiero, and the team's leading scorer sent it along to the Ovechkin for a one-timer from below the dot in the left circle.
After a goal late in the second period by New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk, Ovechkin and the Capitals erupted in the third.
Ovechkin put Washington in front at 1:23 when he collected a pass along the right wing and used New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov as a screen to snap a shot past goaltender Johan Hedberg.
It was precisely the type of goal Ovechkin used to score regularly during his days as the League's top left wing, but it was the first time he's been able to do it this year since moving to the right side.
He completed the hat trick at 15:13 of the third, after a shorthanded goal by Eric Fehr put Washington ahead 3-1.
Ribiero had the puck behind the net and sent a diagonal pass to Ovechkin for a one-timer on the power play.
Ovechkin's previous hat trick came at Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"He had a great game. I’m not going to speak for their team -- all I can tell you is that we have to find a way to slow him down and stop him and we didn’t do that," New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said.
Ovechkin now has eight goals this season. Ribiero has 15 assists in 17 games and is leading Washington with 21 points.
The Capitals traded for Ribiero at the 2012 NHL Draft, sending forward Cody Eakin and a second-round pick to the Dallas Stars. Finding a center to provide consistent production behind Nicklas Backstrom has been a multiyear project for general manager George McPhee, and Ribiero is exceeding expectations at this point.
Ribiero has at least 50 points in each of the past seven seasons, but he hasn't averaged more than one per contest since he had 83 in 76 games in 2007-08.
"Our line has good chemistry right now," Ovechkin said. "[Chimera] knows exactly what he has to do and I know where [Chimera] is going to be. We are talking before the game and between the periods. And especially with [Ribeiro], who is a guy who can control the puck in the neutral zone."
After the Capitals had taken a 1-0 lead, Kovalchuk countered with a goal late in the second period. Devils forward Andrei Loktionov lost the puck after he entered the offensive zone, but he was able to clear space for Kovalchuk to swoop in behind him and fire a shot past goaltender Braden Holtby with Capitals defenseman John Erskine providing a screen.
The goal, with 38 seconds remaining in the period, was Kovalchuk's seventh of the season. He has three against the Capitals, including the game-winner in each of the first two meetings of the season, including Thursday in a 3-2 victory also played at Verizon Center.
Brouwer deflected an Ovechkin shot at 17:09 of the third for another power-play goal and the final marker of a furious 20 minutes. Fehr's goal to make it 3-1 at 3:56 was the team's first shorthanded tally of the season. He stole the puck from Hedberg behind the net before stuffing a wraparound shot for his fourth of the season.
"We came out and played our game," Capitals forward Matt Hendricks said. "We played a full 60 minutes. We talked earlier about being 100 percent committed to the system not only in the defensive zone, but in the neutral zone and the offensive zone. We played a full game. That’s something we need to build on."