WASHINGTON – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, Ilya Samsonov made 24 saves and the Washington Capitals rode their best players to a 4-0 victory Friday night and two-game sweep of the New Jersey Devils.
Ovechkin has scored 10 times in his past 10 games and has a team-best 17 goals this season. He's eight shy of Marcel Dionne for fifth on the NHL's career goal list after scoring his 722nd and 723rd and is tied for sixth in the league after putting up just seven in his first 19 games.
“I think he took it to heart when everyone was saying he had a bad start,” said Conor Sheary, who had a goal and an assist. “He’s probably the hottest guy in the league now, but it seems like every shot he takes is dangerous. It’s just amazing how many opportunities he’s able to get and how many goals he’s able to score.”
Nicklas Backstrom scored his 13th goal of the season, while Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson each had two assists. Samsonov had to make a big stop 30 seconds in but wasn't tested much after that, improving to 7-1-1 with his first shutout since Jan. 13, 2020.
“Not too much work,” Samsonov said. "Just (standing) back watching the game. Thank you, team.”
With Ovechkin rolling, the Capitals have won nine of their past 10 games and are back atop the East Division. They're tied at 48 points with former coach Barry Trotz's New York Islanders but hold the tiebreaker having played one fewer game.
Washington looked more like itself — a poised, veteran team — in the second game against New Jersey in two nights following four days off. While they came back to win Thursday, the Capitals never trailed in this one, their sixth in a row without center Lars Eller because of a lower-body injury.
Much like early in the season when they were without Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Samsonov and Dmitry Orlov simultaneously and earlier this month when Wilson was suspended for seven games, the Capitals keep showing they can play at a high level without key contributors. T.J. Oshie shifted to center to take Eller's usual spot, and Daniel Sprong looked comfortable on the first line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov.
“We’ve got a lot of depth and versatility,” said Wilson, who has four points in four games since returning from his suspension. “Guys can jump in and take advantage. There’s nothing better as a teammate when a guy goes down than to see guys rally together.”
Backstrom has been a constant as Washington's best player and leads the team with 35 points. Kuznetsov took a while to get used to new coach Peter Laviolette and get his game back after missing almost a month recovering from COVID-19 and now has 11 points in his past nine games.
The Devils lost two in a row to Washington after winning four of their previous five games.
“It’s not like we played bad,” Devils center Travis Zajac sad. “Give them credit. They’re a veteran team. They know how to win games. They make it tough. We competed today. We didn’t have enough to finish the job.”
Vitek Vanecek and Samsonov have now split goaltending duties for five back-to-back sets this season. The Capitals have swept four of them, with the young netminders building up evidence they could carry the load in the playoffs without more experienced help.
"They’ve been really good," Laviolette said. “At the beginning of the year, you’ve got a couple young guys that have to prove themselves. You can give somebody an opportunity. It’s up to them to make the most of the opportunity, and I think they have.”
Jesper Boqvist played his first NHL game since Jan. 31, replacing Nick Merkley in the Devils lineup. Merkley was demoted to the taxi squad to make room on the roster for Boqvist despite scoring his second goal of the season Thursday night.
Devils: Continue their road trip at Boston, where they'll face the Bruins on Sunday in the opener of a two-game series.
Capitals: Wrap up a six-game homestand Sunday against the New York Rangers.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports