SYDNEY-RAISED Nathan Walker became the first Australian to play in the National Hockey League on Saturday – and made it a dream debut by scoring in the Washington Capitals’ 6-1 defeat of the Montreal Canadiens.
Sydney-raised Walker scored Washington’s sixth goal late in the second period, deflecting in a shot from teammate Devante Smith-Pelly.
The 23-year-old Walker had a long wait before entering the scorebook, however. The goal was originally credited to Smith-Pelly, but when the change was announced to the crowd during the third period, Walker’s family waved Australian flags in his honor.
“At first I wasn’t 100 percent sure,” Walker said of his goal, adding he felt in something of a daze in his first game.
“The first couple of shifts I didn’t know what happened.” Walker also got to witness a rare NHL feat, his illustrious teammate Alex Ovechkin scoring four goals to become the first player in 100 years with back- to-back hat tricks to open a season.
Ovechkin had three goals in the third period in Thursday’s opening night win at Ottawa, then matched the feat while helping chase Montreal goalie Carey Price in the first period Saturday. He added his fourth goal at 16:46 of the second period against Al Montoya.
Ovechkin jokingly credited the burst to his Russian sister-in-law, who has been visiting the U.S. this week.
“Every time she’s in town like I score a hat trick,” Ovechkin said. “Back-to- back and she’s leaving Monday. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to talk to someone to keep her here.” It was the fourth four-goal game of his career and second against the Canadiens. Three players had hat tricks in the first two games of the 1917-18 season: Cy Denneny of Ottawa, Joe Malone of Montreal and Reg Noble of Toronto, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Ovechkin is the first since.
Braden Holtby stopped 38 shots and T.J. Oshie also scored for Washington. Ovechkin opened the scoring 20 seconds in, added his second goal at 2:51 and his third at 18:10. Evgeny Kusnetsov assisted on all four of Ovechkin’s goals. Capitals coach Barry Trotz spent time with his star in the offseason, and he’s heartened that the 32-year-old Ovechkin worked hard to prepare for the season. “Alex took it to heart that he’s got to keep evolving,” Trotz said. “It’s tougher when you’re older. You’ve got to work out harder.” Brendan Gallagher beat Holtby early in the second period for Montreal’s only goal.