WASHINGTON -- Through the first third of the NHL season, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin had struggled, scoring just five goals and performing well below his normal pace asWashington tumbled to the NHL's basement with just a 5-10-1 mark.
Saturday afternoon, though, Ovechkin broke out of his slump in a big way, scoring his first hat trick at Verizon Center in over three years in a 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils.
"I think the chances are there," Ovechkin said afterwards. "I think sometimes I feel [the] puck doesn't want to go in. Today, it was that kind of game that almost every shot goes in, or at least it feels like that. It's kind of nice."
Ovechkin scored off a one-timer in the second period on Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg, then added a pair of goals in the third - including the game-winner where he unleashed a wrist shot through New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov's legs - for his first hat trick overall since Jan. 22, 2011.
It was also his first hat trick at home since the Super Bowl Sunday 2010 against Pittsburgh, which established the Capitals' franchise-record of 14 consecutive wins - and perhaps was the high watermark of recent Caps history.
For a franchise that had seen a lot of twists and turns since that snowy Sunday three years ago, Saturday was a bit of a flashback to that era.
"To be honest with you, I kind of forgot what 'Rock the Red' means, the fans [told me] a couple games ago, you have to push us forward," Ovechkin said. "It's a hard time for us and need everyone to be involved."
Through his slump and the media attention to his scoring woes, Capitals coach Adam Oates has been supportive of his superstar.
"I feel that way about everyone," Oates said. "If you're doing the right things, it'll turn your way at some point. You have to believe in that. It's almost every lesson. Do it right. He's had a lot of chances, had a few the other night ... Because he's doing the right things, he's getting opportunities. Good things happen sooner or later."
"He's that kind of person who gives me a brief all the time," Ovechkin said. "Sometimes I have a bad game, I talk to him, and he says 'OK, chances are there. It's going to come.' ... For a player, if you feel that kind of trust with a coaching staff, that's very important and teammates see it."
Ovechkin's play saw an improvement in the rare home-and-home series against the Devils, as he got opportunities Thursday but couldn't convert. Saturday, he blasted a pair of one-timers and added the wrist shot for good measure, along with a nice assist on Troy Brouwer's goal late that finalized the score.
"I kind of figured he was going to shoot it because he's got the hot hand tonight, but he's a good player and sees the ice well and you've got to be ready," Brouwer said.
Despite Washington's recent struggles, Ovechkin's play has seen improvement. And if the Capitals hope to try and snag a playoff berth, they need their captain to perform.
"All the time, the kind of guys we have, we have to score goals," Ovechkin said. "We have that kind of skill and have that kind of opportunity to make difference in meaningful games."
"He's pretty tough on himself," Troy Brouwer said. "He puts a lot of pressure on himself to score and be the guy who leads us the way. ... We need him to score to be successful. He stepped up tonight."
"You want to see your go-to guy get some, the other night we all saw the breakaways," Oates said. "You feel for every guy who's snakebit, obviously with him scores first for us, gets the place going, the fans love him and it's rocking. It obviously helps the team."