- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2017

By mid-ice, the odds had shifted to Alex Ovechkin’s favor. He was steaming across the rink’s midpoint, with San Jose goaltender Martin Jones sliding forward from his goal to cut down space and Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon desperately trailing him. Ovechkin, an owner of 577 career goals, was alone with the goaltender.

Ovechkin’s elevated backhand shot going by Jones simply felt like a culmination of the obvious. One of the greatest goal scorers in league history was loose, alone and at full speed. Any non-goal outcome would have been more surprising.

The goal at 7:11 of the second period of the Capitals’ 4-1 rambunctious win against the San Jose Sharks on Monday put Ovechkin’s season total at 20. He is the first in the league to reach that mark, separating him by a goal from Tampa Bay right winger Nikita Kucherov, who was idle Monday night. The goal pushed Ovechkin to 20th all-time, breaking a tie with Mark Recchi. Ovechkin reached 578 goals in 949 games. It took Recchi 1,652.

“That blows my mind,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “That you can pass some great players in this league in terms of production, and to do it in a difference of 700 games, that blows my mind. I don’t even know how to respond to that.”

It was also part of a recent surge. Ovechkin has seven goals in his last six games. That, coupled with a rapid rate of goal-scoring to start the season, has moved Ovechkin, 32, to the 20-goal mark in 28 games. It took him 45 games to reach this point last season, when whispers about his speed and mounting age led to questions if he could survive in a speedier NHL.

Ovechkin’s strike was a highlight in an eventful second period.

T.J. Oshie had dropped to a knee after a collision in the corner along the boards. He had just lost his skate edge, but while down there, San Jose’s “Jumbo” Joe Thornton skated in, leading to a meeting between Oshie’s head and Thornton’s rear. The meeting of cranium and buttock left Oshie face down on the ice. He eventually rose, skated off slowly, then went to dressing room. Oshie did not return.

“He was just falling a little bit,” Thornton said. “It’s not like I ran him or anything. I bumped him and it felt like my hip kind of hit him in the head. So it’s just unfortunate what happened.”

Brett Connolly took Oshie’s place on the power play and scored at 19:08 to put the Capitals in front, 3-1.

That Washington defenseman Tom Wilson dropped his gloves to the ice, then right hand into Thornton’s face 2:19 into the third period was not a surprise. The exchange made clear what Washington thought of Thornton’s hit on Oshie. Coaches from each side yelled expletives at each other following the fight.

“He’s an honest player,” Wilson said of Thornton. “He was one of my favorite players growing up. He’s what’s good for the game, and in that instance, that hit, I didn’t like personally and I don’t think our team liked. Any times a guy is down, it’s kind of a no-hit zone. It’s part of the game. He stood up for himself afterwards. I respect him for that. But Osh is one of our best players. He’s one of the leaders in this room. Honestly it’s not great to see that hit in that instance. Obviously hoping Osh makes a full recovery and feels better soon.”

“If someone would have grabbed Joe in the heat of the moment after the play because they thought a liberty was taken, then I’ve got no problem with that,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “To go into the dressing room, think about it, come out in the first shift and do that premeditated crap is just garbage.”

Pop was elusive for much of the first. The Capitals were not credited with a shot until 5:24 into the period, a clean opportunity in front for Jakub Vrana that Jones handled. San Jose already had six shots by then, pelting Philipp Grubauer with deliveries off drop passes that led to slap shots for Brent Burns or via traffic in front provided by Joel Ward.

Washington’s breakthrough came after a pivot in activity. Lars Eller’s stickwork put him through the neutral zone then in a clean spot for a shot that thunked into Jones‘ pads. The Capitals began to carry more play in the Sharks‘ zone, before Devante Smith-Pelly’s fourth goal of the season put them in front, 1-0.

Vrana would find retribution later with a third-period goal, pushing the Capitals up 4-1, giving them wins in four of the last five games.

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