The NHL’s biggest star was quiet in Washington’s latest win, but Alexander Ovechkin’s fast start has helped the Capitals to an early division lead.
The New York Islanders, meanwhile, are still waiting for their No. 1 overall draft pick to help them rack up victories.
Ovechkin was chosen first overall by the Capitals in 2004, and he has paid major dividends both on the scoresheet and in the standings.
Washington (5-2-2) reached the playoffs in 2008 for the first time in four seasons, and the club reached the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring for the first time since 1998. The Capitals are off to another strong start behind Ovechkin, who is tied for the NHL lead with nine goals and 16 points.
The Islanders (1-4-3) are hoping Tavares will eventually lead them to similar success. The 19-year-old rookie has been held scoreless in his last two games, but he had seven points in his first six contests despite New York losing all of them.
After finally earning their first victory in a 4-3 shootout over Carolina on Wednesday, the Islanders fell flat Thursday, losing 5-1 at Montreal with captain Doug Weight(notes) sidelined due to the flu. The Canadiens carved up New York’s defense and fired 43 shots at goalie Martin Biron(notes).
“We were a pretty easy team to play against,” Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. “Defensively we were on our heels because of all our turnovers and it wasn’t just in one area, it was coming out of our zone, it was situations where we had full control of the puck and we’re not making plays. It’s probably the worst that I’ve ever seen it tonight and it’s something that we’ve got to get better at.”
There certainly won’t be much margin for error against Washington’s powerful offense, which led the Capitals to a season sweep against New York in 2008-09.
Both victories on Long Island came on goals by Ovechkin in overtime, and he totaled six goals in the four victories last season.
More surprising was that the Capitals went 0 for 7 on the power play, a performance coach Bruce Boudreau called the “worst night in the three years that I’ve been here.” They ranked second in the league last season, converting at a 25.2 percent clip with the man advantage.
Washington managed its third straight victory on the strength of three second-period goals, but it got a shaky performance from 21-year-old goalie Semyon Varlamov(notes), who allowed two in the third period to shrink the team’s lead.
Varlamov, who’s seeing more playing time while Jose Theodore(notes) deals with an injured back, still improved to 8-0-1 in the regular season in his brief career - including a 4-0-0 mark despite a 3.25 goals-against average thus far.
“It’s funny, he can make a great save one second and then let a softie in the next. But I think that comes with experience,” Boudreau said. “The bottom line is a lot of Cy Young Awards were given to guy that won 25 games with a 3.00-plus ERA, so the wins are the things that count.”