WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin quieted a lot of critics last season by leading the NHL in goals for the third time in his career.
This year, the Washington Capitals right winger is proving it was no fluke.
Facing off against one of the NHL's stingiest teams, Ovechkin scored two goals, leading the Capitals to a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night at the Verizon Center.
Ovechkin moved into a tie with Blues center Alexander Steen for the NHL lead in goals with his 16th and 17th of the season. Steen was held without a point for the first time in 14 games.
"Oatesy (Capitals coach Adam Oates) talked about how I have to stay more in the middle of the ice in the offensive zone because lots of pucks go there and I can find rebounds there." said Ovechkin, who enjoyed his fourth two-goal night of the season. "It's working."
Center Mikhail Grabovski and defenseman John Carlson also scored for the Capitals, and center Nicklas Backstrom picked up three assists.
Washington (12-8-1) won for the third consecutive time and moved into first place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins (12-8-0).
The Capitals are now 11-4-1 since starting the season 1-4-0.
"I would say, honestly, there hasn't been too many bad games," Oates said. "I think we've been playing decent hockey, and hopefully we'll continue to grow."
The Blues (13-3-3) received a goal from center Vladimir Sobotka, but they lost in regulation for the first time since Nov. 2, snapping a 5-0-1 streak. They were playing their third game in four nights.
"I think we had a sloppy start and then we couldn't execute," Sobotka said. "Their goalie outplayed us, and that can't happen."
Washington goaltender Braden Holtby turned aside a career-high 46 shots to improve to 10-6-0.
The Capitals faced goaltender Jaroslav Halak for the first time since he singlehandedly knocked them out of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
In that seven-game series, the Slovak turned aside 217 Washington shots, including 94 in the final two games, to give the Canadiens a first-round upset.
Sunday night's rematch hardly lived up to its billing. The Capitals scored three times on their first six shots, chasing the Blues goalie after just 13 minutes, 41 seconds.
Ovechkin got it started 7:17 into the game when he grabbed a touch pass from Backstrom, worked up a head of steam as he crossed the blue line and creaked a slapper into the top left corner of the net.
Halak had no chance on Ovechkin's first goal, but he had trouble controlling a slap shot by Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner a little more than five minutes later. Ovechkin backhanded the rebound over Halak for a 2-0 lead.
Washington made it 3-0 with 4:19 remaining on the opening period. Grabovski whacked in the rebound of a shot by left winger Jason Chimera, prompting Blues coach Ken Hitchcock to pull Halak in favor of Brian Elliott, who won the night before against the Carolina Hurricanes.
"You want to jump on them in the first period like we did," Holtby said, "and we stuck with it for the rest of the game."
The Blues caught their collective breaths in the first intermission and closed to within 3-1 early in the second period on a power-play goal by Sobotka. St. Louis entered the game with the NHL's No. 1 power play, and after Sobotka had his initial shot blocked, he snapped the puck over the right shoulder of Holtby for his third goal of the season.
"I really thought when it was 3-1 we were going to win the hockey game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought we had them on their heels."
The Capitals, who entered the game with the league's second-ranked power play, answered at 9:27 of the second period. Carlson posted his fifth goal of the season, his second on the power play.
Carlson, an invitee to the Team USA Olympic orientation camp, was playing while Team USA assistant general manager Ray Shero and Team USA assistant coach Peter Laviolette watched from the press box. He one-timed a pass from Backstrom past a screened Elliott for his fifth goal in eight games.
Elliott saved 13 of the 14 shots he faced.
NOTES: Before the game, the Capitals placed D Mike Green (lower body) on injured reserve. Green missed his second consecutive game but is eligible to play Wednesday when the Pittsburgh Penguins visit Washington. The Capitals recalled D Dmitry Orlov from AHL Hershey. ... The Capitals improved to 8-3-0 on home ice. ... The teams entered the game ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on the power play. The Blues (25.8 percent) were led by LW Alexander Steen and C David Backes with four power-play goals each. The Capitals (24.4 percent) were led by RW Alex Ovechkin's seven power-play goals. ... Steen was held scoreless, ending his 13-game point streak (13 goals, five assists). It was the longest streak of his nine-year NHL career. ... The Capitals are off until Wednesday when they face C Sidney Crosby and the Penguins for the first time. The Blues continue their three-game road trip Tuesday night in Buffalo against the Sabres. They close out the road trip with a game against the Bruins in Boston on Thursday.