The best goal scorer in a generation was not at all surprised to see a defenceman leading the NHL scoring race three weeks into the season.
Alex Ovechkin, who scores 50 goals a season for fun, was happy to see teammate John Carlson lead the league in scoring and take some of the focus off him for a change as the Washington Capitals came to town to take on the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.
Carlson, 29, had five goals and 20 points going into the contest. He had a career-high 13 goals and 70 points last season.
“Sorry, it’s John Norris,” smiled Ovechkin when asked about Carlson, referring to the Norris Trophy. “Everybody knew that he’s a skilled guy and he’s our top D, obviously. Everyone is helping each other to get better back there. He’s playing big minutes like always and he’s just feeling it. It seems like everything he’s trying to do works and it’s good for us.”
A product of Natick, Mass., Carlson was selected by the Capitals in the first round — 27th overall — of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He’s in his 11th season with the Capitals and played his 700th game Friday.
“I just feel like I’m playing similar to what I have in the past, but things are just going my way right now,” Carlson said. “You always work to get better and find new ways whether it’s watching video or practising, working on different things. It’s a tight game out there and things are going my way right now.”
Carlson went into the game against the Oilers on an eight-game point streak, one away from setting a franchise record. The Capitals were on a four-game win streak and were playing the third of a five-game road trip.
“It’s good for us forwards (when defencemen score),” Ovechkin said. “If when we play against the top defencemen in the league who are up there with the scoring leaders and have lots of points, we don’t want to give them any chances to shoot the puck or make a play. We know if you leave them open they will make a play and that’s what’s he’s been doing for us, so it’s been good.”
GAGNER BACK IN LINEUP
Sam Ganger was projected to be a top-six forward for the Oilers coming out of training camp this season, but things did not go as planned and he was sent to the Bakersfield Condors to start the year.
With the Oilers having next to nothing in terms of production from their bottom-six forwards, Gagner was called up to try and add some offence to the bottom two lines.
Gagner had two goals and four points in four games with the Condors before being recalled on Saturday. He did not dress in the 3-0 loss on the road against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday and was in the lineup for the first time this year Friday against the Capitals.
“Personally, I just have to go in and play,” Gagner said. “I know what I have to do to be successful and I feel like I’ve added layers to my game in the last number of years.
“I think there are different areas I can help out, but obviously, the main one is creating some offence; getting some shots to the net and just kind of getting the puck to the offensive zone and making plays when I’m there. I just want to play to my strengths and help this team continues to move forward.”
Gagner, 30, was selected sixth overall by the Oilers in the 2007 NHL Draft and spent his first seven seasons in Edmonton before being traded to the Arizona Coyotes following the 2013-14 season.
After stops in Arizona, Philadelphia, Columbus and Vancouver, along with AHL stints in Lehigh Valley and Toronto, Gagner was reacquired by the Oilers last season.
“I don’t think it ever gets easier, but I think there is a transition into trying and handling the setbacks and handling the adversity,” Gagner said. “You learn to get better at that and I realize now more than I did when I was younger that it’s not always going to be an easy road and things aren’t always going to go exactly as planned, but you have to be able to take a punch and I think I’m excited about the opportunity. Hopefully, I can go and give the team a boost and make it so I don’t come out of the lineup.”
SUPPORTING THE TEAM
The Capitals are keeping close tabs on the MLB World Series as the Washington Nationals attempt to win their first title.
The Nationals, formerly known as the Montreal Expos, took a 2-0 series lead on the Houston Astros with a 12-3 win on Wednesday.
“Always since Day 1 that I got to Washington, I’ve been a Nationals fan, a Mystics (WNBA), Wizards (NBA) and Redskins (NFL) fan,” Ovechkin said. “I’m happy for the guys and I’m happy for the city. They’ve taken two steps and they have two more go.”
Ovechkin has been a guest of the Nationals and has thrown the ceremonial first pitch at a game. When the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018 they celebrated the victory at Nationals Park.
While a baseball fan, Ovechkin is still learning the intricacies of the game.
“I know a home run and all those sort of things,” He said. “But sometimes I still have to ask the American guys something about what happened out there. But I’m starting to understand a little bit better.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest