Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, seemingly in the midst of a career renaissance in his ninth season, is flirting with yet another personal milestone.
With an NHL-leading 26 goals through 31 of Washington’s games, Ovechkin stands a realistic chance of becoming the first player since Brett Hull in 1991-92 to score 50 goals in his team’s first 50 games of the season.
“Of course it would be nice to score that kind of goals in that kind of games, but I don’t know,” Ovechkin, 28, said Wednesday. “It’s pretty hard and it’s almost impossible to do it right now because the level [of] hockey is so high.”
Ovechkin’s most recent masterstroke came Tuesday, when he scored four goals in one game for the third time in his career, powering Washington to a come-from-behind 6-5 shootout victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The vintage performance left Ovechkin with 49 goals in his past 52 regular-season games dating to last season. (Ovechkin missed two games this season due to injury in early November.)
The NHL officially acknowledges the accomplishment when a player scores 50 goals within his team’s first 50 games of the season, which has happened eight times in league history. Players scoring 50 goals within their first 50 games of the season has happened five times, most recently by Mario Lemieux in 1995-96.
Coach Adam Oates, who played alongside Hull when Hull accomplished the feat in 1990-91 and 1991-92 with the St. Louis Blues, said he believes Ovechkin could join that exclusive company.
“I think he has the capability of doing it, with the guys he plays with, the minutes and the [power play],” Oates said, acknowledging that today’s NHL is much tighter defensively than it was during his playing career. “I think it’s harder, no question.”
For the time being, Ovechkin’s primary focus remains on helping the Capitals win games by doing what he does best.
“I just think we’ll see what’s going to happen,” Ovechkin said. “My job is to score goals, and every opportunity I’m going to have, I’m going to try to put it in the net.”