Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.
''It's always nice when you beat the Great One,'' Ovechkin said. ''It doesn't matter what kind of milestone it is. It's history.''
Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.
Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.
''Spencer's been great for us. He's probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren't ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,'' Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.
The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.
''I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it's been cool,'' Washington center Dylan Strome said. ''Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.''
Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.
Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.
''On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.' But I've seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,'' said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. ''He's got a shot that finds its way in.''
The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.
''It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,'' Boudreau said.
It was Ovechkin's 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.
''(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,'' Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. ''He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.''
Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.
''It's frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,'' Canucks center J.T. Miller said. ''It's frustrating because they didn't out-skill us today, they didn't out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.''
NOTES: Washington's Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. ... Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). ... The Capitals swept the two-game season series. ... Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.
Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.
Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.
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