Sunday, October 8, 2006

The French Connection? Sorry, but that’s passe.

The Russian Connection is in vogue now for the Washington Capitals.

Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin accounted for all of Washington’s goals last night as the pair of young Russian stars powered the Caps to a resounding 5-2 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes, their third straight loss.

Semin, who has scored four of the Caps’ seven goals this season, had a hat trick, scoring in each period, while Ovechkin snapped a short goal-scoring slump with two in the final period to back some fine goaltending by Olie Kolzig.

Ovechkin appeared to be injured 14:40 into the final period, when he was hip-checked by Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason and remained flat on the ice for several minutes, but he later said he was fine.

“If a player of his magnitude was hurt, there would be chaos around here,” coach Glen Hanlon said calmly, indicating there was no problem with last season’s NHL Rookie of the Year.

The win evened the Caps’ record at 1-1 and was a far better overall performance than the 5-2 loss to the Rangers in New York on Thursday. Virtually every Caps player on the ice contributed, with two players — right wing Chris Clark and defenseman Brian Pothier — collecting three assists apiece. The game was played before a opening night crowd of 16,622 with club seats around the middle of Verizon Center nearly full.

Ovechkin had a career-high 15 shots on goal, seven of them in the middle period, as he scored his first goals of the season. He appeared to be pressing, pushing himself hard from the start of the second until after he scored his second goal.

“I said to myself, ‘Come down, play hard and don’t worry about it,’” Ovechkin said of entering the third period with no goals on the season. “‘If you score goals, it’s OK. If you don’t, it’s OK.’ We must win game. I score goals, and we win the game. I’m happy.”

Semin, who spent two years playing in Russia after a dispute with the Caps, had scored only one goal on this side of the Atlantic since March 30, 2004. He now has four.

“What can I say? I feel happy,” Semin said through a translator. “It’s the first game at home. Three goals and a good comeback. I like it.”

Semin had the only goal of the first period, but Carolina had a pair in the second to slip ahead. Semin then tied the game before the end of the second, setting up the three-goal burst in the third — two by Ovechkin, with Semin adding the finishing touch.

“I don’t think you’re ever comfortable, and you want to make sure your two goals are a big enough lead,” Hanlon said. “It’s one quick turnover, then a 6-on-5 and a game could be done, so you never relax.”

Clark had one of the best views of the offensive show after being put back on the first line.

“He’s been unbelievable,” he said of Semin. “He’s got one of the quickest wrist shots I’ve seen in a long time. It comes off his stick really fast. It takes a lot of pressure off our other Alex because the focus might not be on him all the time.”

Notes — The Caps do not practice today. … Brooks Laich, one of two forwards banged up enough Friday so he couldn’t practice, was healthy enough by game time to play. But Matt Pettinger, Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley were all medical scratches. Defenseman John Erskine was the only healthy scratch. … Carolina scratched defenseman Bret Hedican, who had played in the Hurricanes’ first two games. He had hip surgery over the summer. … Carolina’s goal at 1:40 of the second period was the Hurricanes’ first goal in 113:59.

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