WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin steps closer to Wayne Gretzky’s goal record, Hendrix Lapierre records his first NHL career and Washington Capitals made their season opener great for scoring rather than fighting.
The fistfights against the division opponent never took place New York Rangers, and the Capitals made Wednesday night’s 5-1 win memorable for Ovechkin, surpassing Marcel Dionne in fifth place on the career goals list, and Lapierre scoring in his debut game, where Gretzky provided the soundtrack.
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After Ovechkin scored his 731st and 732nd goals, returning to the “game by game, day by day” chorus in pursuit of Gretzky’s mark, he was all the more delighted that Lapierre was number 1 at age 19.
“I told him ‘Just hit the disc’ before,” Ovechkin said. “He’s a talented kid, fun to watch, and frankly I hope he has a great future.”
Ovechkin needs 163 goals to beat Gretzky, who lingers in Lapierre’s emotional moment from afar and talks about his relationship with the Russian superstar on national television. Lapierre, his parents, grandparents, brother, sister, and girlfriend were all smiling after witnessing his NHL debut as part of a bestselling crowd, and he will always have “The Fabulous One” on his first target’s featured reel.
“I don’t think I could have asked for better for the first game,” Lapierre said.
The excitement was more related to the aftermath of events between these teams last season and the changes Rangers made over the summer to be bigger and tougher. Brave forwards Barclay Goodrow and Sammy Blais debuted a new-looking roster made up of executioner Ryan Reaves and great defenders Patrik Nemeth and Jarred Tinordi, but the closest thing to a fight in the first period was a pair of harsh penalties.
The penalties – nine of them – derailed the Rangers all night.
“You don’t want to take too many penalties, especially against a team like Washington,” said center Mika Zibanejad. “It’s something we need to think about and get better at in the future, but without detracting from our aggressiveness and playing hard.”
Washington goals followed a few of those penalties. After TJ Oshie opened the score in the first game, Justin Schultz added a power-play goal in the second game and Lapierre scored in a two-on-one offense 24 seconds later.
Ovechkin added a new power play from his hallmark spot on the kickoff circle, bringing the situation to 4-0. Chris Kreider scored a strong goal for New York in the middle of the third quarter, but it was the only goal Vitek Vanecek gave up in 24 shots.
And Ovechkin is not finished. He scored a short-handed goal – only the fifth of his career – to make the game inaccessible.
Ovechkin later joked and told assistant coach Scott Arniel that he was always ready to play in a penalty shootout. Capitals will pass that and allow Ovechkin to score for the remainder of his new, five-year contract.
Alexandar Georgiev allowed five goals on 27 Capitals shots and was given a back-to-back first-half nod to Igor Shesterkin, who started normally, and is expected to be clear as the Rangers are home opener.
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“A few breakdowns and weird-guy rushes,” said Norris Trophy-winning defender Adam Fox. “Just tighten it. We don’t have much time to dwell on it.”
NHL EYES GAME
Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and senior vice president of player safety George Parros attended the first Rangers-Capitals meeting since a game that featured six fights in the first five minutes last season.
Blais and Washington defender Trevor van Riemsdyk were inside in less than two minutes, but officials stepped between them and other potential fighters before anyone could put the gloves down.
It was clear that the message was meant to play hockey and not turn the night into a boxing match.
“Our players, coaches and managers are professionals,” Bettman said earlier. They know what is expected of them and we think it would be best for everyone to focus on being on the right side rather than being on the wrong side.”
Washington’s Peter Laviolette beat John Tortorella for a record 674 NHL win among American-born coaches.
“I have worked with really good people,” Laviolette said. “It’s not a man winning. it’s a winning team and that’s why I think about it and think of all the people I’ve connected with throughout my coaching career and I’m so grateful for everything.
Rangers: Welcome the Dallas Stars to their house opening Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
Capitals: Host the two-time champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
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