In October of 2005, the NHL was struggling to regain the fans it lost during the 2004-05 lockout. The Capitals were one of the weakest teams in the league after jettisoning talent in order to win the first overall pick in the 2004 lottery. Rookie Alex Ovechkin had just turned twenty and the future of the franchise largely rested on his shoulders.
Tarik El-Bashir, then writing for the Washington Post, called Ovechkin “the cornerstone of the franchise’s rebuilding hopes.”
Ovechkin began that game the way he would continue throughout his career in Washington, DC: he laid big hits, scored big goals, and had a little fun.
He started off strong in front of the DC crowd, with a literal bang: breaking the plexiglass during his very first shift on the ice.
“His opening-shift smash came about 20 seconds into the game and sent Blue Jackets defenseman Radoslav Suchy hurtling into the boards behind the Columbus goal,” El-Bashir wrote. “The metal divider went tumbling.”
He scored twice the night of October 5, 2005, powering the team to a 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. “It’s my first game in the NHL,” Ovechkin said afterward. “We win and I score two goals. It’s a nice start.”
His first goal came from assists by Jeff Halpern and Dainius Zubrus. It’s not quite from the Ovi spot, but it was pretty close.
After scoring, Ovechkin kissed his glove and pointed upwards, a tribute to his late brother Sergei. Ovechkin and his wife Nastya recently welcomed their first child, who they named in Sergei’s honor.
Ovechkin’s second goal came on the powerplay.
He celebrated by dropping to one knee and then pointing at Halpern, who gave him the assist.
Ovechkin didn’t let the pressure of the game or expectations of the franchise dim his spirit. When he saw on the jumbotron that the camera was pointing at him, the future Conn Smythe winner stuck his tongue out and smiled.
“The kid may be only 20 but he’s also a showman, demonstrative without being obnoxious,” wrote Michael Wilbon after Ovechkin’s debut game. “Only seconds into his first game, on his very first shift, he delivered a big hit, a KO that made you go, “Ooooh.” He skates away from defensemen, hits like a freight train, finishes scoring chances.”
After the game, Ovechkin spoke with reporters. “It feel very good. I must thank my [teammates] for giving me two excellent passes. It was just a shot. I must only shoot and I score two goals. It’s my first game in the NHL, we win and I score two goals. It’s a nice start.”
Ovechkin celebrated his first game, first goals, and first win with his teammates, including goalie Olie Kolzig.
It took thirteen years, but eventually, Kolzig and Ovechkin would see their names carved in the newest ring of the Stanley Cup.
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