Red Wings can't contain Alex Ovechkin in 3-1 loss to Capitals

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings couldn't do what a lot of other teams haven't been able to do this season and throughout Alex Ovechkin's career: Stop him from scoring.

Ovechkin's goal at 17 minutes 10 seconds of the third period — just as Washington's power play expired — snapped a tie and Ovechkin added an empty-net goal with 40 seconds remaining, leading Washington to a 3-1 victory.

Red Wings center Michael Rasmussen, right, is pushed off the puck by Capitals defenseman Matt Irwin, left, during the second period Friday in Detroit.

It was Ovechkin's 23rd and 24th goals of the season. He has 754 in his illustrious career.

"One of the great scorers of all time," defenseman Marc Staal said. "He knows how to put the puck in the net. We did a pretty good job on him, especially on the penalty kill. He doesn't need a lot of time and space to get it toward the net and things happen."

The Wings were playing their first game in 13 days, but didn't show the rust you'd expect.

They had a good start, stuck with a Washington (20-6-7) team that plays a tight defensive game and is physical, and had a chance to earn points at the end.

But, Washington made the plays with the game on the line, and the Wings (15-14-3) are still learning to do so.

"We played well enough to win, we put ourselves in position to win the game," coach Jeff Blashill said. "The hockey game is 1-1 late and we defended fairly well. We didn't give up a whole bunch of chances throughout the game.

"We're in position to win the hockey game and you have to find a way to win those games."

These are the type of defensive struggles that will be common the second half of the season. 

"You have to find a way to finish the job," Staal said. "There's only going to be more of those. The last 50 games get tighter and tighter and more intense and less room. You're going to have nights like that. We have to be more comfortable in these situations and finish the job."

The teams traded second-period goals, after a goal-less first period.

Pius Suter ended a nine-game goal-less drought with his sixth goal at 1:43, sending the Wings to a 1-0 lead.

Sam Gagner gathered the puck behind the Capitals net and whirled a backhand pass into the slot, where Suter snapped a shot past goaltender Ilya Samsonov, just as a Wings power play expired.

Both teams failed on power plays before the Capitals tied it late in the second period.

Defenseman Lucas Johansen found Evgeny Kuznetsov with an outlet pass near the top of the circle. Kuznetsov got around Marc Staal, drove to the net, and slid his 11th goal past goaltender Thomas Greiss.

Considering the long layoff, the Wings showed impressive jump and energy.

"We started real good and given the long layoff, we played a fairly good defensive game," Blashill said. "There were positives in the game. We were in position to win the hockey game. We came out and played hard and played with energy and had good structure. We had a good week of practice and did a real good job."

The Capitals have earned a point in 15 straight games against the Red Wings (12-0-3), dating to Nov. 18, 2015. During that span, Ovechkin leads the team with 13  goals in 15 games.

"They fill the middle (of the ice) and they're positionally sound in the neutral zone, they just don't give you much," Staal said. "We had some good looks. We have to get more than one (goal), though. It's tough to win 1-0."

Twitter: @tkulfan