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League's top scorers collide as Caps host Jets
WASHINGTON -- Alexander Ovechkin is no stranger to sitting atop the NHL's goal-scoring table. This season, the veteran has some company in the form of teenager Patrik Laine.
The NHL's leading goal scorers meet Monday when the Washington Capitals return from a West Coast swing to host the red-hot Winnipeg Jets.
Ovechkin and Laine have tallied 40 goals so far this season -- the fourth time in five years Ovechkin has reached that plateau, while Laine has scored in five straight games to get to 40 for the first time in his brief career.
"That would be great," Laine said of playing against Ovechkin while sharing the goal lead. "I would be honored to have the league lead with him."
Laine has an 11-game point streak and is a big reason why the Jets have surged in the standings, going 9-3-0 since Feb. 13, a run that began with a 4-3 overtime victory over Washington.
"He looks so much different than he did a month ago," Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice told reporters after Saturday's 2-1 loss at the Philadelphia Flyers. "He's a special young man, 19 years old and still growing into his body. He's a real competitive guy, wants to score. He's going to be a good Winnipeg Jet for a long time."
Ovechkin has been the heart of the Capitals for a dozen years now, and he still just needs two more goals to become the 20th player in NHL history to reach the 600 mark, though it's been a week since he last lit the lamp.
The rest of his teammates have struggled to score as well, as Washington has tallied just three goals in its last three games, one of them an empty-netter in the Capitals' 2-0 win at San Jose on Saturday.
"You're playing really well and you have a lot of zone time and you want to get rewarded for it," Washington coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the game. "That's the mental thing. What happens when you keep getting zone chances and you don't score, you start to cheat in areas, and the first thing you know, it's coming down your throat the other way and you're down a goal. I liked our patience and just staying on task in terms of what we needed to do."
Washington got a huge lift from goaltender Phillip Grubauer, who recorded the shutout win against the Sharks. He's been solid, while starting netminder Braden Holtby has struggled, so it remains to be seen who will get the nod Monday.
"I take it game-by-game," Grubauer said after making consecutive starts in more than a year. "I learned the last couple of years if I don't get to play every week, you have to be ready to go and focused and ready to go. It's been nice to get a couple of more minutes in lately and get into a little bit of a groove."
This marks the fifth of a six-game road trip for the Jets, with a huge matchup Tuesday at Central Division-leading Nashville looming. The Capitals are in a dogfight with Pittsburgh at the top of the Metropolitan Division standings and can't afford to slip.
"We have to have that playoff mode going forward," Trotz said.
Updated March 11, 2018