WASHINGTON (AP) — While the fisticuffs never materialized, the Washington Capitals made a season-opening 5-1 victory against the division-rival New York Rangers memorable Wednesday night for Alex Ovechkin’s 731st and 732nd goals and Hendrix Lapierre’s first.
Ovechkin scored twice to pass Marcel Dionne for sole possession of fifth place on the NHL goals list, putting him a couple of steps closer to Wayne Gretzky's record that had long seemed unbreakable. And Gretzky was even part of Lapierre's goal, talking about his relationship with Ovechkin on national television while the 19-year-old put the puck into the net and went sliding into the boards.
Lapierre was all smiles after his parents, grandparents, brother, sister and girlfriend witnessed his NHL debut as part of a sellout crowd and will always have the “Great One” on the highlight reel of his first goal. Ovechkin, one game into a new five-year contract to chase the mark, needs 163 goals to pass Gretzky.
The hype going in was more about the aftermath of incidents between these teams last season and the changes the Rangers made over the summer to get bigger and tougher. They debuted a new-look lineup featuring gritty forwards Barclay Goodrow and Sammy Blais, enforcer Ryan Reaves and big defensemen Patrik Nemeth and Jarred Tinordi, but the closest thing to a fight was a pair of roughing penalties in the first period.
Washington goals filled the void. After T.J. Oshie opened the scoring on the power play in the first, Justin Schultz added a power-play goal in the second and Lapierre scored 24 seconds later on a two-on-one rush.
Ovechkin added another on the power play from his trademark spot in the faceoff circle to make it 4-0. Chris Kreider scored on the power play for New York midway through the third period, but that was the only goal Vitek Vanecek gave up on 24 shots against.
And Ovechkin wasn't done. He scored a short-handed goal — just the fifth of his career — to put the game out of reach.
Alexandar Georgiev allowed five goals on 27 Capitals shots, getting the nod in the first half of a back-to-back with regular starter Igor Shesterkin expected to be in net for the Rangers home opener.
NHL EYES GAME
Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and senior vice president of player safety George Parros were all in attendance for the first Rangers-Capitals meeting since a game last season included six fights in the first five minutes.
Blais and Washington defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk got into it less than two minutes in, but officials stepped in between them and other potential combatants before anyone could drop the gloves.
It was clear the message had gotten through to play hockey and not turn the night into a boxing event.
“Our players and our coaches and our managers are professionals,” Bettman said beforehand. “They know what’s expected of them, and we think it would be best if everybody focused on being on the right side of the line as opposed to the wrong side of the line.”
Rangers: Host the Dallas Stars on Thursday in their home opener at Madison Square Garden.
Capitals: Host the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports