Saturday, October 1, 2005

In his first two games, Alexander Ovechkin was a dynamo on the ice. He was all over the place, trying to do everything at once for the Washington Capitals. He even had 11 shots, proving he could find the net.

But could he score in the NHL? Could his magic hands thread the puck through to forwards guarding opponent nets?

The answer to both questions is yes.

Last night, the heralded Russian rookie scored three goals — plus one in a shootout exhibition — and set up a fourth with a beautiful feed as the Caps defeated Pittsburgh 4-3 in an exhibition game before about 5,000 at MCI Center, an improvement on the handful of people who turned out for Washington’s only other preseason home game.

The crowd, which was announced as 12,189, responded with a small cascade of hats tossed onto the ice to note Ovechkin’s third goal and first hat trick on this side of the Atlantic.

“I just want to enjoy this moment because I am here, this is my dream and I’m very glad to play here,” said the left wing. He said his last hat trick came in a practice session early last winter.

Ovechkin’s play stood out, as it has throughout preseason — in games or practices. He checked opponents, killed penalties, worked the power play, took a turn on regular shifts and drew all eyes to him. The puck is not glued to him, so he pursues it nonstop over every inch of the ice.

Other Captials — defenders who are trying to make the team — were also outstanding. Steve Eminger, whose position is secure, played well. So did Bryan Muir, who is fighting for a job.

But nobody on defense was as good as rookie Mike Green. The No.29 pick in the 2004 draft, Green clearly played well enough to hold a job with the Caps.

He is not big, but Green refuses to back down and defends well in all situations. Best of all, it appears Green has a knack for how plays develop and how to defuse them.

Defenseman Mathieu Biron, who has struggled during camp, will not be in the lineup for tomorrow night’s exhibition at Pittsburgh. That may be an indication the club has seen enough of the former first-round draft pick, although team officials would comment.

The Caps trailed 2-0 when Ovechkin scored his first goal, drilling in a rebound. He raised his stick with his right hand and pumped the air furiously with his left — a gesture MCI fans could see often.

Ovechkin fed Jeff Halpern to tie the game near the endof the second period, scored a short-handed goal early in the third, then roofed a shot later in the period for a 4-2 Washington lead.

Notes — Czech forward Petr Sykora, who has long been just a rumor, finally showed up last night at MCI Center, and club officials immediately turned him over to team doctors for a physical. If he is in shape, he may appear in one of the Caps’ last two exhibition games. …

Dainius Zubrus played in his first preseason game, centering the first line. He had been out following arthroscopic knee surgery. … Newly acquired Jeff Friesen had been scheduled to make his Washington debut but was given the night off to move some personal belongings. … The Caps close the home portion of their exhibition season tonight against Philadelphia. They are at Pittsburgh tomorrow night and open the regular season Wednesday night at home vs. Columbus.

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