Typically in mid-January, the NHL is just past the midpoint of their season, with certain teams having established themselves as contenders, while other teams have established themselves as mediocrities, or bottom feeders in the league standings. In January 2006, the Washington Capitals were in the latter.
The Washington Capitals’ game against the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes on January 16, 2006, looked to be a battle between a bad team (the Capitals) against the Coyotes, who were decidedly mediocre. However, the Caps did have one thing going for them in another poor season: an exciting rookie left wing named Alexander Ovechkin.
After previous stops in Dallas and Anaheim, the Capitals next traveled to Arizona to face the Coyotes in Glendale. The team was a dismal 14-24-5, and in last place in the Southeast Division, while the Coyotes were 22-21-2. The main source of excitement that emanated about such a poor Capitals team was Ovechkin, who was already up to 30 goals and had scored a hat trick in the team’s prior game, living up to his hyped first overall status.
The goaltending matchup for the contest was Capitals backup goalie Brent Johnson against Brian Boucher of the Coyotes; the game would be Johnson’s second consecutive start. The Capitals Head Coach that season was Glen Hanlon, while the Coyotes’ bench boss was NHL great Wayne Gretzky, who was also their part owner at the time.
The Caps were significantly shorthanded in personnel, as defenseman Steve Eminger, center Jeff Halpern, and left wing Matt Pettinger were all injured; Eminger had sprained an ankle in the team’s 3-2 Overtime win against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim three days earlier, Halpern was dealing with a knee issue, and Pettinger was on injured reserve with an undisclosed medical issue.
Personnel-wise for the Coyotes, Petr Nedved was returning to the lineup after two days of being a healthy scratch, while defenseman Sean O’Donnell was returning after a two-game suspension.
The Coyotes were granted the game’s first power play at 3:01 when Capitals forward Brooks Laich took a tripping penalty, but were unable to convert. A Steve Gainey interference penalty over 10 minutes later saw the Capitals open the game’s scoring, with Ovechkin notching his 31st goal of the year 50 seconds into the man-advantage after Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek redirected a pass from Mike Ricci into the Coyotes’ net (Ovechkin was credited with the goal as he was the last Capitals player to touch the puck). Over a minute later, Mike Comrie took a holding penalty which gave the Caps another power play. This man-advantage would be cut short after Ovechkin was penalized for interference, which resulted in a 4-on-4 situation and a subsequent shortened power play opportunity for Phoenix, on which forward Shane Doan scored with just six seconds left by redirecting a long wrist shot from Keith Ballard towards the net to tie the score; Nedved was credited with the secondary assists. Doan’s 13th of the season would prove to be the final goal of the period, with both teams heading into the first intermission.
Unlike the opening frame, which saw extended play without offense, the Capitals wasted no time in preventing such a scenario in the second. Just 30 seconds into the period, Ben Clymer scored to put the visitors ahead 2-1, receiving assists from Laich and Matt Bradley. Less than two minutes later, Mike Ricci was called for holding the stick penalty, resulting in a Danius Zubrus goal on the resulting power play about 30 second later; Ovechkin and Brian Willsie were credited with assists on the play. During the second half of the period, Brian Sutherby and Bradley scored goals less than two minutes apart on similar types of plays: Sutherby received a centering pass from Willsie and was assisted by Clymer, while Bradley got a centering pass from Sutherby; the two Capitals goals put the visiting team ahead by a commanding 5-1, which was the score going into the second intermission. Capitals defenseman Jamie Heward was injured during the period and would not return for the third period. After pulling ahead, the Caps had to kill off a 5-on-3 situation when both Chris Clark and Nolan Yonkman were in the box.
The final frame of play was rather uneventful for most of the first half, until, nearly 12 minutes into the third period,came “The Goal”. Picking up the puck in the neutral zone, Ovechkin carried the puck into the Phoenix defensive zone when Coyotes defenseman Paul Mara dragged him down. As Ovechkin slid on his back toward the net, he reached out over his head – one-handed, no less – and corralled and sent the puck at a sharp angle past an unsuspecting Boucher. Boucher had stood up, believing the threat of a goal was past. Ovechkin’s goal was his second of the game, his 32nd of the year, his sixth goal in three games, and his 14th in 16 games; Ovechkin’s goal was assisted by defenseman Brendan Witt, which made the score 6-1. As the goal was replayed on the big screen hanging over the ice, the fans in attendance applauded, even though he was an opponent of their team. Washington Capitals television Play-by-Play announcer Joe Beninati described the goal as “Simply sensational”, while the Coyotes’ broadcast team was just as stunned. There were no more goals for either team after that and the final score remained 6-1.
Aftermath and Reactions
Ovechkin’s amazing third period goal was the main topic of conversation after the game. On top of the spectacle of the goal itself, the marker tied the Capitals’ franchise record for goals by a rookie, previously held by Bobby Carpenter, who had 32 in his initial season with the team.
Ovechkin himself spoke about the goal after the game, “That was lucky. Best score, oh yeah. I just went down and try shoot and score goal. [Chris] Clark came to me and said, ‘You scored,’ and I said, ‘Wow.’ I saw replay, it was beautiful.” Ovechkin had 10 shots on goal in the game.
Washington goaltender Brent Johnson commented, “The kid’s amazing. I mean, he seems to be on the scoreboard every night with some unbelievable shots. He’s got one of the best shots that I’ve ever seen in the game, and it’s just one of the quickest releases.”
Capitals defenseman Mathieu Biron commented, “I told him that will be shown on highlights for the next 10 years.”
Gretzky himself was awed. “That was pretty nice. He’s a phenomenal player. You know, he’s a phenomenal player, and he’s been a tremendous influence in the game. It’s great to see, because he is that good. He deserves all of the accolades he’s getting. It’s going to be a tremendous race to see who wins that Rookie of The Year.”
Paul Mara, from the Coyotes, commented, “He was on his back and I don’t even think he saw where the puck was and he took a swipe at it. That’s why he is one of the premier players in the league.”
Boucher, who faced 34 Capitals shots, added, “He made a heck of a play. That’s why he’s going to be a superstar in this league. It just adds insult to injury when it’s the sixth goal in a blowout. But the fans certainly were excited.”
While Ovechkin got most of the attention, he was not the only player who played well during the game. Johnson made 21 saves on 22 shots. Dainius Zubrus, with his second period goal, now had 14 points in 13 games; Matt Bradley had his first multi-point game since October 13 and also broke a 17-game pointless streak, and Ben Clymer broke a 13-game pointless streak of his own with a goal and an assist.
Capitals Head Coach Glen Hanlon commented on his players breaking their scoring droughts, “It’s nice to see guys who work hard get rewarded offensively. They are so unselfish, so it’s nice to see.”
Hanlon summarized the events, “I think this is a good confidence booster for this young club. You know, before we went to Anaheim, I think we lost like eight straight [eight of nine], so it’s been a long time coming. It’s always good to win back-to-back games, especially on the road.”
By Diane Doyle
Washington Post: 1/17/2006: Beautiful Goal By Ovechkin in 6-1 Capitals Victory
ESPN Recap of Game of Capitals/Coyotes 1/16/2006
Washington Post: A Decade Later Players Remember The Goal
CBC: The Goal By Ovechkin Resonates 10 Years Later
NHL Com: Alex Ovechkin Still Unsure How He Scored The Goal
Hockey Reference Boxscore 01/16/2006: Capitals at Phoenix
High Bid For Alex Ovechkin’s Game-Worn Jersey From “The Goal” Game Currently At $33,000