Mike Ribeiro knew the situation. So when he had time, space and saw Alex Ovechkin with an open look at the net, he knew exactly where the pass was going.
“At the end I was just trying to give him the puck for the hat trick,” Ribeiro said, “and he was able to put it in.”
As the white net fluttered, Ovechkin celebrated his first hat trick in more than two years, his first at Verizon Center in more than three years. By the time he assisted on Troy Brouwer's goal to cap off the 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon, Ovechkin had his first four-point game in over two years as well.
“It is good to see him bust out,” Brouwer said. “We need him to score to be successful, we all know that. He scored in a lot of different ways tonight, which is what we need out of him. We can't have him just being static and waiting for other guys to feed him the puck. He was in there, working hard, creating his own chances.”
Ovechkin scored his three goals in signature fashion: a one-timer from the faceoff circle, on the rush and then from his trademark spot on the power play. He was able to go goal-for-goal with fellow Russian star and friend Ilya Kovalchuk and then beat him by two.
“That was a lot of fun to watch in that third period there,” said forward Eric Fehr, whose short-handed goal gave Washington some insurance early in the third. “Even coming down the wing on that one to shoot between the legs again, that's vintage Alex.”
It was, for one day, a glimpse of vintage Ovechkin and the high-scoring Caps of old, even as they remain in last place in the Southeast Division at 6-10-1 with 13 points. His hat trick isn't a cure-all, but it was an uplifting performance for a team in need of something to feel good about.
“Anytime you can score a hat trick obviously, I thought he had a great game,” right wing Joel Ward said. “Hats off to Ovi. That's what he's here to do: score goals and make plays, and he got three tonight, which was great.”
Teammates fed off Ovechkin's emotional performance, and so did the crowd, which came alive each time he lit the lamp.
“To be honest with you I was kind of forget about what ‘Rock the Red’ means,” the captain said. “The fans a couple games ago, before the game I said ‘You have to cheer us, you have to push us forward’. It’s a hard time for us we need everybody to be involved. Tonight it was that kind of game, we get second goal and they was [ready] for it.”
The Devils were ready for it too. Opponents rarely miss an opportunity to praise Ovechkin as still one of the most dangerous players in the game, but Kovalchuk knew what to expect.
“He’s that kind of guy. He will always try his best,” Kovalchuk said Saturday. “He’s not going to get a hat trick every game, but he will give his 110 percent. He’s one of the best players in the league and it’s fun to play against those guys.”
It's not so fun to coach against the Caps when Ovechkin is rolling along like this.
“All I can tell you is we have to find a way to slow him down, stop him, and we didn't do that today,” New Jersey's Peter DeBoer said. “He had a great game. We didn't stop him.”
When Ovechkin is scoring like this, it's difficult to stop him. Goaltender Johan Hedberg had little, if any, chance on any of the goals.
It was his 11th career hat trick but his first since Jan. 22, 2011 and his first at home since the “Snowmageddon” game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 7, 2010.
It seems strange to think Ovechkin went so long without one.
“You make it seem like hat tricks are scored every other game,” Ward said. “I don't know; how often you expect him to score hat tricks? But it's good for him, it's good for the confidence. But we definitely need him scoring in order to win games.”
Ovechkin had just five goals in his first 16 games before breaking out Saturday against the Devils. He's now tied with Brouwer for the team lead with eight goals.
Just a day earlier, Ovechkin lamented the puck just not wanting to go in the net Thursday night against New Jersey when the 27-year-old showed flashes of his old self. Saturday it did.
“I think the chances are there, just sometimes feel puck just don’t want to go in,” he said. “Today is that kind of game almost every shot goes in, goes through so it’s kind of nice.”
Coach Adam Oates has seen this coming all along. He praised Ovechkin's increased chances and more times with the puck on his stick.
“The winning goal, power play, five-on-five on the right side. So a lot of good from him,” Oates said. "Obviously it’s nice to see him rewarded and big goals for us.”
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