AP

Alex Ovechkin has hat trick, Capitals rout Canadiens 9-2

Dec 31, 2022, 1:56 AM | Updated: 4:40 pm

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) scores a goal for a hat trick during the third peri...

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) scores a goal for a hat trick during the third period of an NHL hockey game against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34), Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)


              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) scores a goal for a hat trick during the third period of an NHL hockey game against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34), Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) reacts after his goal for a hat trick during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) skates by caps that were thrown onto the ice after Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin scored his third goal for a hat trick during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34) stands by the net as caps are thrown ontoo the ice after Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin scored his third goal for a hat trick during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) skates with the puck past Montreal Canadiens right wing Joel Armia (40) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) shoots the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) scores a goal for a hat trick during the third period of an NHL hockey game against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34), Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates after his goal with defenseman Erik Gustafsson (56) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates after his goal with defenseman Erik Gustafsson (56) and center Dylan Strome (17) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates after his goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals center Joe Snively (91) shoots the puck against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Montreal Canadiens right wing Cole Caufield (22) celebrates with defenseman Justin Barron (52) and center Nick Suzuki (14) in the second period after scoring his second goal of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Montreal Canadiens right wing Cole Caufield (22) celebrates his goal as Washington Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen (3) looks on during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Montreal Canadiens right wing Cole Caufield (22) celebrates after his goal as Washington Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen (3) looks on during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals right wing Garnet Hathaway, right, celebrates after his goal with center Nic Dowd (26) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals right wing Garnet Hathaway (21) celebrates after his goal with center Nic Dowd (26) and defenseman Matt Irwin (52) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) battles for the puck against Montreal Canadiens center Jake Evans (71) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) shoots the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) reacts during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
            
              Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates after his goal as Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki (14) looks on during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin scored almost at will against the Montreal Canadiens and moved a few steps closer to Wayne Gretzky’s NHL goal record.

Ovechkin recorded his 30th career hat trick to speed up his pursuit of Gretkzy’s mark, Charlie Lindgren made 31 saves against his first NHL team and the Washington Capitals skated circles around Montreal on the way to a 9-2 rout Saturday.

Asked if he enjoys facing the Canadiens after reaching 37 goals in 53 games against them, Ovechkin replied, “No, I just enjoy to play hockey.” He and the Capitals enjoyed every bit of this game.

Ovechkin’s 804th, 805th and 806th career goals put him 88 back of Gretzky’s record of 894 that long seemed unapproachable. He has scored six times in four games to reach 26 this season, past the halfway point to his 10th 50-goal season, which would be one more than the “Great One.”

Lindgren stopped former Canadiens teammate Nick Suzuki on a breakaway among a handful of key stops in winning for the ninth time in his past 10 starts. An undrafted free agent signing by Montreal, Lindgren is unbeaten in two games against the organization he spent his first five professional seasons with.

“They got some chances, but I thought we did a great job countering and obviously we did a good job putting the puck in the net, too,” Lindgren said. “I have a lot of respect for a lot of the guys on the team there. But beating your old team, it definitely feels a little sweeter.”

The Capitals dominated, absent a short stretch from late in the first period through five or so minutes of the second. They made the Canadiens look helpless and haphazard in their own zone, and on their seventh goal, multiple Washington players did laps around Montreal defenders before Marcus Johansson scored.

Erik Gustafsson, Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd scored before Ovechkin made it 4-1, center Dylan Strome finished for a power-play goal late in the second and Anthony Mantha added a goal. Washington has won 11 of 13 to go from struggling amid injuries to solidly in playoff position and should be getting reinforcements on the way soon in the form of forwards Tom Wilson, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie on the verge of returning from injuries.

“This whole December how we played shows how good we are,” said Gustafsson, who has six goals and six assists during a Capitals’ season-best seven-game point streak. “And if we can keep this rolling — we have big players coming back too soon — it’s a fun stretch we have here.”

Wisconsin native and former University of Wisconsin star Cole Caufield scored his 20th and 21st goals of the season for the Canadiens in their fifth consecutive loss. He’s the first Montreal player to reach 20 goals in 37 of fewer games since Martin Rucinsky and Brian Savage in 1995-96.

“He’s pretty good — I’ll just leave it at that,” Lindgren said. “He got a couple tonight, but yeah he’s a great hockey player.”

Allen allowed nine goals on 38 shots for the Canadiens, who have lost eight of nine. Coach Martin St. Louis took some blame for leaving Allen in the entire game instead of pulling him.

“I probably could’ve helped him out,” St. Louis said. “They got to eight, nine with four minutes to go at that point, think I was past the point of no return in that department. But I think as a young coach, this is a learning experience for me.”

UP NEXT

Canadiens: Visit the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night.

Capitals: Wrap up their three-game homestand Tuesday night against the Buffalo Sabres.

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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