They started at the bottom, and now they’ve made it to the top.
After losing 9 of their first 11 games, the Washington Capitals were in the Southeast Division cellar. Alex Ovechkin had only three goals, and new coach Adam Oates’ system didn’t settle in as quickly as he had hoped.
However, following Sunday night’s 4-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington has marched all the way back into first place, riding a four-game winning streak and wins in 8 of their last 10 to pull into a two-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets.
Ovechkin even scored two goals against Tampa Bay to pull into a tied with Steven Stamkos for the league lead with 25.
“The beginning of the year was a pretty hard time for our whole organization,” Ovechkin said. “Right now, we’re back on track, and it’s good.”
Washington scored the final three goals against the Lightning to improve to 12-3-0 in the division. Michael Neuvirth made 28 of 30 saves in the game.
The game was hotly contested throughout, as Tampa Bay opened the scoring with Vincent Lecavalier’s power-play goal (8) less than two minutes into the game, courtesy of Martin St. Louis, who is second in the NHL with 38 assists.
Ovechkin (24) tied the game with a tip in goal at 3:14 in the second before Alex Killorn (7) scored on a breakaway at 6:37 to get Tampa Bay the lead right back.
John Carlson (6) beat goalie Ben Bishop with a slap shot to his glove side, an area Bishop has shown to be less skilled at than others. Bishop played well, making 32 of 35 saves, including some incredible goal-saving acrobatics, but he wasn’t good enough.
Joel Ward (8) scored on an odd-man rush for what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Ovechkin fought through interference from the Lightning bench to cap off the game with an empty-net goal, his 25th.
All in all, it was a well-matched game, but the Capitals were the better team on the ice. Washington seems to be getting hot at just the right time, with a favorable schedule lined up down the stretch as well.
The Capitals will head to Canada to face the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Tampa Bay, all but out of the playoff race, will host the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. ET. The game marks the first time Cory Conacher will return to the Tampa Bay Times Forum in a different uniform, making for what should be an interesting night as Ben Bishop will also be facing his former team for the first time since last week’s trade.