WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin stretched out his arms in celebration, teammates mobbed him along the boards and jubilant fans launched their hats onto the ice.
This was the performance they had waited to see.
Ovechkin scored his first hat trick this season and 16th of his 10-year NHL career to lead the Washington Capitals over the St. Louis Blues 4-3 on Wednesday night.
“He played with excitement again,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said of Ovechkin, whose 12 goals now tie him for second in the league. “I think sometimes we say he’s not scoring enough and all that. . I’ve been reducing the minutes a little bit and spreading them out. He’s fresher and I think it will pay off in the long run.”
The 31-year-old Ovechkin played fewer than 16 minutes but had a goal in each period to move one hat trick ahead of Florida’s Jaromir Jagr for the most among active players.
Ovechkin’s second multi-goal game this season also propelled the Capitals to their third win through four games of a five-game homestand.
“Sometimes you just feel right away when you have an opportunity to shoot the puck,” Ovechkin said, “and obviously feel the puck on your stick and just go out there and use the momentum.”
Capitals linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov also scored and added an assist for Washington, which held a lead throughout the final two periods.
“The biggest thing is they were moving their feet and they were making plays, and they were decisive in what they were doing,” Trotz said of the line that also included Andre Burakovsky.
Vladimir Tarasenko got his eighth and ninth goals of the season for St. Louis, which scored twice in the final 75 seconds. Alex Pietrangelo added a late goal for the Blues, who had won four straight.
“When you don’t use your legs, you end up using your stick, and that’s what’s happened,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. “There’s too many of them early in the game. It sends the wrong message to the rest of the team.”
Ovechkin had already scored twice before Kuznetsov’s goal made it 3-1 early in the third. And after a replay review found Ovechkin not to be guilty of being offside, he sent the home crowd into a frenzy only 24 seconds later.
From a faceoff in the Caps’ end, he got the puck near his own blue line on the left and pushed forward quickly. With a man open to his right, Ovechkin instead unleashed a ferocious shot at full stride that caromed off goalie Carter Hutton’s glove and into the top left corner.
“It’s fun to watch when he’s making the shot and when he’s feeling it,” Kuznetsov said. “It’s tough to stop him.”
On a power play in the first, Ovechkin took Kuznetsov’s feed and rifled a wrist shot that skimmed off and over Hutton’s left shoulder.
Ovechkin made it 2-0 in the second when he took John Carlson’s cross-ice feed and fired a slap shot from a similar spot inside the left faceoff circle off the goalie’s blocker.