TORONTO - The Washington Capitals hope a visit to Toronto will be enough to wake their sleeping giant.
Alex Ovechkin registered his first hat-trick of the season Saturday as Washington wrapped up a road trip with a 4-1 victory over the Maple Leafs.
It was the first time since Oct. 30 that Ovechkin scored more than once in a game. The Russian sniper has struggled to find the back of the net this season and remains on pace for just 32 goals - 14 fewer than his career-low total of 46 from 2006-07.
"You knew eventually he was going to break out," said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. "He's gotten two first-period goals this year and when he got the third one today, I thought 'OK, he gets that goal early and he's going to be going.'
"I thought he was as good as he's been all year."
The goals were hardly vintage Ovechkin. He opened the scoring by tipping home a Jeff Schultz point shot, before having the puck bounce off Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and land right on his stick for the second goal early in the third period.
Ovechkin finished the hat trick by racing around defenceman Tomas Kaberle and shooting into an empty net.
"It's always nice when you score goals," Ovechkin said. "I'll take it. ... I had three lucky goals."
Matt Hendricks also scored while rookie Braden Holtby picked up the win in net for Washington (27-14-8).
Tim Brent replied for the Maple Leafs (19-23-5), who visit Carolina and Tampa before the all-star break.
The 21-year old Holtby made his second straight start after being recalled from the American Hockey League when Michal Neuvirth went down with an injury. The native of Lloydminster, SK., looked extremely comfortable in the "Hockey Night in Canada" spotlight - stopping Tyler Bozak during an early 2-on-1 chance.
That set the tone for the night.
"You can usually tell before the game if you're feeling right or not," said Holtby. "To get a save off the start like that, it definitely brings the momentum in your favour. Plays like that can go either way - it's a matter of inches - and luckily tonight it hit the top of my pad."
Holtby's night included 18 saves in the third period - Brent broke his shutout bid with a low shot from in close - and earned him loud cheers when he came into the Capitals dressing room after the game.
The Leafs felt like they deserved better.
"We missed empty nets, we had some great scoring opportunities in the first two periods," said Toronto coach Ron Wilson. "We could have and probably should have had the lead.
"Their goalie made some unbelieveable saves."
Ovechkin wasn't so bad himself. His 10th career hat trick boosted his career numbers against the Maple Leafs to 22 goals and 38 points in 22 games.
He makes no secret about how much he loves playing in Toronto.
"It's just a good atmosphere and a great building to play hockey," said Ovechkin. "It's nice."
Trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes, the Maple Leafs had some great opportunities to tie it in the second period.
Bozak had a long short-handed breakaway but couldn't beat Holtby with a backhanded deke. The rookie goaltender also stood tall in keeping a Joey Crabb tipped shot on the goal-line before turning away two chances from Phil Kessel before the intermission.
Ovechkin's second of the night provided some much-needed breathing room. After Brent ended the shutout bid, Hendricks restored the two-goal cushion by taking the puck from Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn and putting a nice breakaway deke on J.S. Giguere at 8:14 of the third period - looking more like a goal-scorer than an agitator getting his sixth of the season.
"It came at such an opportune time," said Boudreau. "For about three or four minutes after that it really disillusioned them."
Holtby punctuated his evening with a beautiful glove save on Bozak that left the Leafs forward shaking his head in frustration. He figures a big contingent of family and friends back home in Saskatchewan watched on happily.
"I would think so, my family definitely was," said Holtby. "I know everyone just watches 'Hockey Night in Canada' anyway, whether they know someone playing or not. Hopefully, they got to see it."
Notes: Leafs forward Mike Brown returned from a three-game suspension ... Eric Fehr was scratched for Washington ... Giguere has made 507 more career NHL appearances than Holtby ... Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom has just one goal in his last 23 games ... Announced attendance was 19,554.
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