WASHINGTON – Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL-leading 51st goal to help lead the Washington Capitals to a low-intensity 4-0 rout of the coasting Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night in a game between teams whose postseason fates had already been decided.
Jay Beagle had his first career two-goal game, and Nicklas Backstrom also scored as the Capitals won their fourth straight, a hollow winning streak because they won’t be in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves in his first shutout since the trade deadline deal that brought him to Washington from the St. Louis Blues. It was also his first game since a dustup earlier this week over whether he was skittish about facing his former team.
The Blackhawks, shut out for the fourth time this season, were already assured of making the postseason as the third-place team in the Central Division.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who had said he might rest some players over the final two games, gave defenseman Duncan Keith the night off and subbed goalie Corey Crawford after two periods. The game had a preseason, phone-it-in feel for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Chicago had its four-game winning streak snapped. While Friday’s low-effort outing can hardly be counted as a barometer, the Blackhawks have a noteworthy concern as they prepare for a run at another title: They have lost eight of 10 on the road, scoring only 15 goals in those games.
Ovechkin’s first-period goal – a one-timer from the back edge of the left circle – was his 24th on the power play, a Capitals franchise record and the most in the NHL since Steven Stamkos had 24 in the 2009-10 season. Ovechkin’s power-play output underscores his lack of scoring at even strength over the final six weeks of the season, as well as his minus-35 rating that is among the worst in the league.
Halak didn’t play Tuesday against the Blues because, according to Washington coach Adam Oates, the goalie wasn’t “100 percent comfortable” with the prospect of facing a former team for the first time. Halak’s agent disputed Oates’ account and said any private conversations between player and coach shouldn’t have been made public.
Oates said before Friday’s game that he had spoken to Halak and things were “all good.” He said he started Halak against the Blackhawks because Braden Holtby had played the night before, and that Holtby will also start Sunday’s season finale.