ATLANTA | The Atlanta Thrashers clearly missed their top Russian player, and they saw more than they cared to of the Washington Capitals’ guys from that country.
Alex Ovechkin had two goals and an assist, and Semyon Varlamov made 38 saves to lead the Caps past the Ilya Kovalchuk-less Thrashers 4-3 at Philips Arena on Thursday night.
For about the first 35 minutes, Washington dominated and appeared to be en route to a laugher. But in a turn of events that has been a theme this season, the Caps let up and ended up having to sweat out the final minutes of their sixth straight victory.
“I thought with about seven minutes to go in the second period we thought this was going to be easy,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Then we stopped skating, and we stopped playing. The crowd was out of it, but I knew once they got one goal, just like the last time, they would be flying.”
Ovechkin put the Caps on the board first at 10:03 with a power-play goal. Thirty-three seconds after Jim Slater hooked Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green set up Ovechkin for a one-timer with a nifty no-look, point-to-point pass.
After a bit of a slow start by his standards, Green now has points in seven straight games, which is the longest streak in the league for a defenseman this season.
Backstrom sprang Ovechkin on a breakaway less than five minutes later, and the two-time MVP didn’t miss. He skated in alone and snapped a shot just under the crossbar that was in and out of the net before Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec had time to react.
It was Ovechkin’s 13th marker of the season, which has him lighting it up at an 89-goal pace. Ovechkin hadn’t scored more than eight goals in October before this season and had only 10 in his two previous Octobers combined.
“I just do my thing,” Ovechkin said. “I just try to score goals and help the team win. Right now, we win, and it doesn’t matter how we win because it is two points.”
Brendan Morrison made it a three-goal lead in the middle period. Ovechkin sent a pass from the bottom of the left circle through the crease to Morrison near the right post. He stopped the hard pass with his foot and still had time to squeeze a shot inside the near post for his fourth of the season.
After the Caps pushed the lead to three, they had multiple chances to make it larger, but it didn’t happen. Alexander Semin missed an open net with what appeared to be a subpar effort, and a couple of other prime opportunities were squandered.
“We were way too casual, and that’s what happens when you let up and you don’t just drive,” Boudreau said. “The great ones - every chance they get to score, they want to put it through the net. You see [Ovechkin], I mean he never lets up.
“We had opportunities to, and it was just ‘la-di-da,’ and instead of making it 4-0 or 5-0 and letting them go home with their tails between their legs we got a battle on our hands. Especially with the number of games we have this week, it would have been nice to rest some guys in the third period.”
Kovalchuk missed his first game after breaking a bone in his foot Sunday. Emerging star Zach Bogosian took Kovalchuk’s spot on the top power-play unit for the Thrashers, and he notched a Kovalchuk-esque goal early in the third period.
Bogosian, Atlanta’s first-round pick last season and an alternate captain as a second-year defenseman, blasted one from the left point at 1:23 for his third of the campaign.
Todd White added a breakaway goal with 2:23 left to make it interesting. Mike Knuble tacked on an empty-net goal with 53 seconds left to end any doubt, but Bogosian added another just before the final buzzer.
“That’s the cowwol thing about this league - you are never out of hockey games,” Brooks Laich said. “Last two games, we were down 2-0 and came back to win them. With the way penalties are called and the strengths of teams on the power play these days, teams are never out of it. That being said, we still beared down and got the win against a well-rested team.”
Two nights after Jose Theodore had one of his best performances in a Washington uniform with 41 saves, Varlamov responded with one of his best outings of the season. He made 17 saves in the final period as the Thrashers tried to rally, and he improved his career record to 9-0-1.
“I wasn’t happy for [Varlamov], because he played an outstanding game,” Boudreau said. “He ends up with three goals on him, and they were nothing he could do. He kept us in it in the third period, and it is ridiculous how we just let up and let other teams back in the game. It is very frustrating.”