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Four-goal Game Puts Alex Ovechkin In Capitals' Penthouse

December 11, 2013

There's no star-player controversy in the Washington Capitals' locker room. It's safe to say Alex Ovechkin could bring any family member he chooses, perhaps even @OvietheBulldog, into the locker room this week without raising eyebrows.

Ovechkin's four-goal performance Dec. 10 propelled the Capitals to a comeback victory against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning. The Capitals trailed, 3-0, during the first period, but rallied to win their third consecutive game.

Ovechkin tied the game, 5-5, with 32.4 seconds remaining during regulation when his slap shot beat Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. It was the third time during his career that he scored four goals during a game.

But it wasn't a glorious night for everyone. Mike Green spent most of the first period in the penalty box. Washington's highest-paid defenseman, Green was whistled for a double-minor high sticking, tripping and another high sticking. Oh, and he picked up a 10-minute misconduct on the last one.

Here's a closer look at which Capitals are in the penthouse and who's in the doghouse.

PENTHOUSE: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson

You know how Ovechkin sometimes glides into the defensive zone while opponents rush toward the net? No, can't recall that. See? See what happens when spectacular displays of talent save a team from defeat and electrify a fan base?

The Capitals' captain and the NHL leader with 26 goals, Ovechkin scored during the first period when Backstrom won a faceoff and passed back to him. He added two more goals during a five-minute major power play and scored the aforementioned fourth with time running out.

"We stuck together," Ovechkin said. "Nobody was screaming at each other. We stayed as a group and win the game. It's huge."

Head coach Adam Oates, who set up many a goal scorer during his playing days, marveled at Ovechkin's offensive display.

"He's a pure sniper," Oates said. "The fourth goal, with the ice conditions at that time, the length of the pass, the weight on the pass, that's an incredible shot. That's why he's a superstar."

Opponents have been smothering Ovechkin, who has an NHL-best 11 goals on the power play. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he was displeased with his team's defense, to say the least, pointing out that Ovechkin was stationary for three of his tallies.

"He didn't even have to work for his goals," Cooper said. "Didn't move on the first one, didn't move on the last two. We know where he is. We know what he can do. We either just didn't have a stick on him or weren't in the lane."

Cooper didn't blame inexperience.

"There's young guys, old guys, everybody's on the ice when he was scoring his goals," he said. "So, I wouldn't say it's a young thing. I would say it's a dumb thing."

Backstrom finished the night with a goal and four assists. His second-period goal, on a power play, pulled the Caps within a goal, 3-2. He assisted on all four Ovechkin goals.

"In New York the other night, he had one of his best games," Oates said, "and it just rolled into tonight. I played him a little more because we were behind so much. He had a fantastic night."

Carlson played a game-high 34:48, and had the primary assist on Ovechkin's fourth goal to send the game into overtime.

"Great pass by Carly, because, like I said, the ice is so bad at that time, to make that pass is difficult," Oates said.

DOGHOUSE: Mike Green, Braden Holtby, Martin Erat

Oates and Green have been having a lot of chats lately. Last week, it was to urge Green, who up until then hadn't scored a goal this season, to relax and just play. That seemed to work because Green scored Dec. 3 against Carolina.

It seems that it's time for another talk. Green piled up eight minutes in penalties early during the first period, leading to Lightning power play goals by Martin St. Louis and Nikita Kucherov. The Lightning entered the game with a 13-1 record when scoring first.

"It's hard to play when you take that many penalties early," Oates said. "He bounced back second half of the game. It's a tough environment. You get booed. We'll talk about what it is, preparation, etc."

Green, who was not available to reporters after the game, might have turned boos into cheers if he had dropped the gloves when Richard Panik checked Karl Alzner into the boards late during the second period.

Green dropped his stick and approached Panik, but it didn't escalate. That worked in Washington's favor, because Panik was assessed a 5-minute major for boarding, and that led to two Ovechkin goals.

Green also put a heavy check on Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer behind the Lightning net during the third period. Brewer took exception, and the two jawed at each other all the way back to the Capitals' bench.

Holtby, fair or unfair, is in the doghouse in part because of the poor defense in front of him.

After Holtby allowed three goals on eight shots, Oates pulled him from the game. That has now happened four times this season, which is concerning for any team's No. 1 goaltender.

St. Louis scored 2:26 into the game, on the power play. Kucherov made it 2-0 on a slap shot glove side, above Holtby's left pad, also on the power play.

Eighteen seconds later, Nate Thompson scored on a two-on-one. He took a pass from J.T. Brown and beat Holtby high past his blocker. Alzner had gotten stuck in the neutral zone while trying to collect the puck.

Holtby's 25th start of the season ended after 11:07. Philipp Grubauer came on in relief.

"I had to do something," Oates said. "We had shot ourselves in the foot every which way. They get the third one, and it's like, there's still way too much game left -- got to do something. Unfortunately, that's one of the options."

On Dec. 3, Oates pulled Holtby after two periods, when the Capitals were down, 4-0, to the Carolina Hurricanes. Three of those goals were even-strength.

Oates had also given Michal Neuvirth a start after Holtby allowed the game-winning goal to Ottawa Nov. 27. But Neuvirth was injured during warm-ups before the next game.

Holtby was pulled during both games against Calgary. During the home opener Oct. 3, he allowed three first-period goals on 11 shots, one on the power play.

Similarly, he was yanked after allowing three during the first period at Calgary Oct. 26. He faced 14 shots. All of the goals were even strength. During the following start, Holtby shut out Philadelphia.

Erat, who has a standing trade demand on table, was credited with the giveaway that led to Tyler Johnson's second-period goal, which gave the Lightning a 4-2 lead. At the time, it was a momentum killer.

Erat was spared, though, on a more egregious error early during the third period, when the score was tied, 4-4. In Washington's defensive zone, he gave away the puck to Lightning winger Teddy Purcell, whose wrist shot was stopped by Grubauer.

Entering the Dec. 10 game, Erat had been playing well, with three assists during four games since returning to the lineup. Against Nashville, he set up Nate Schmidt's first NHL goal with a great saucer pass between two defenders.