Against the Leafs, who couldn’t figure out how to beat Capitals rookie netminder Braden Holtby, that did not matter.
“He is one of the best goal-scorers in the game and that’s what happens,” Leafs captain said Dion Phaneuf said. “Pucks find him.”
It was the 10th hat trick of Ovechkin’s career, but the first time since Oct. 30 that he had more than two goals in a game.
“They were hard-working goals and I will take them,” Ovechkin said. “It’s a great building to play hockey in. It’s just a good atmosphere. That’s how we have to play — go to the net and find some rebounds.”
The Leafs’ effort was not lacking, and they probably played better than they did during a win against the Anaheim Ducks two nights previously. But the crowd of 19,554 couldn’t help but be a little bit stunned as Holtby, who has been sharp as Michal Neuvirth recovers from a groin injury, continuously turned the Leafs aside.
Still, placing a loss at the pads of a hot goalie would be misleading. The Leafs don’t have many natural goal-scorers, and when Phil Kessel is as cold as the January air, wins won’t come in abundance.
A native of Lloydminster, Sask., Holtby made three huge stops on Tyler Bozak, with one coming in each period — stuffing Bozak on a 2-on-1 in the first, using his right pad to thwart Bozak on a breakaway in the second, and snaring a Bozak shot with his glove late in the third.
Holtby is a pal of Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn, and happens to be Schenn’s goalie on their summer-league 3-on-3 team back home. Bozak, also a Saskatchewan native, said he had heard of Holtby but doesn’t know him personally.
Holtby improved to 4-2-1 in the NHL with a 35-save performance, including 18 saves in the third period.
“I knew he was a good goalie, and he came out and stoned us,” Bozak said. “He did a great job. I had a lot of chances, we all did. I have not scored as many goals as I would like this year and I have to bear down.”
Only Tim Brent, who had gone 19 games without a goal, scored for Toronto. That happened at 2:52 of the third to close the Capitals lead to 2-1, but less than six minutes later, Matt Hendricks stripped Schenn of the puck at the blue line and eventually scored on a backhand deke on Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Ovechkin slapped the lid on the Leafs with an empty-netter with 23.5 seconds remaining.
About the only bit of controversy that might have come out of the evening was the play involving Ovechkin’s first goal, when he deflected a shot by Jeff Schultz behind Giguere. Ovechkin got in Giguere’s kitchen, but the goalie wasn’t too upset.
“I could have got a blocker on that shot if he was not there,” Giguere said. “I was out of my net quite a bit, but guys should not impair you from doing your job.
“I know it is a tough call for the referees. You have to give them room for mistakes. They’re human. They do a good job, and I have no complaints.”