WASHINGTON (AP)— With rookie sensation Alexander Ovechkin back in the lineup for Washington, the Capitals were at the top of their game.
Ovechkin, the NHL’s offensive player of the month for January, missed Washington’s last game with a groin injury. The Capitals lost 5-3 to the New York Islanders without him.
Washington looked like a different team with him.
“That was our best, likely our best overall game of the season,” Washington coach Glen Hanlon said. “I thought we had more control of the puck than we have a lot of other nights, and so we ended up taking a lot less amount of penalties (than) we have gotten in the past.”
Brooks Laich scored an unassisted tie-breaking goal in the second period after Ovechkin assisted on Mike Green’s first career goal in the first period. Clark and Clymer added third-period insurance goals.
Ovechkin took a pounding from the Maple Leafs’ defense, but with that assist, he moved within one point of Washington’s rookie scoring record. Bob Carpenter and Chris Valentine each scored 67 points in 1981-82.
Ovechkin now has 34 goals and 32 assists but wasn’t available to the media after the game.
“They took away Alex as much as they could,” Clark said. “But I think with the roundabout effort that we had, that’s one of the reasons why we win this game.”
Washington goalie Olie Kolzig made 25 saves.
Toronto has dropped two in a row and is 1-8-2 in its last 11 games.
The Maple Leafs took a 1-0 lead on Mats Sundin’s goal with 4:54 left in the first period. The goal also ended a seven-game streak without goals for Sundin.
Green tied it 21 seconds later, firing a low shot past goalie Ed Belfour after Ovechkin’s crossing pass. Green is a rookie who didn’t score a point in his first 12 games.
Laich gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead 56 seconds into the second period when he grabbed a misfired clear in front of Belfour, spun and scored to give Washington the lead for good.
Belfour and Kolzig had a brief meeting at the back end of a first-period brawl where five players earned penalties—including both goalies.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Eddie Belfour,” Kolzig said. “(But) I didn’t want to see our guy, get a blocker in the face.”
Toronto coach Pat Quinn said that nothing sparked his team in this game.
“We couldn’t seem to get anything going with any passion,” Quinn said. “I guess tonight it just seemed not to be there. We had a lot of guys who just couldn’t seem to get anything going.”
^Notes: Washington announced the re-signing of Clark to a two-year contract extension … The Capitals recalled forwards Dave Steckel and Eric Fehr plus defenseman Green from Hershey of the American Hockey League … Sundin now has 50 points in 43 career games against Washington.