By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Dennis Maruk had known for some time that it was a matter of when, not if, Alex Ovechkin would score 60 goals and equal his Washington Capitals franchise record for most goals in a season.
But Maruk didn't know Ovechkin had pulled even with him until yesterday afternoon, when he returned a phone message from a reporter. Maruk, 52, had held the record since the 1981-82 season.
"I knew Alex was at 58 goals, so I knew he was close," Maruk said en route to a ski resort near his Aspen, Colo., home. "But I hadn't looked at box scores yet. I probably would have found out later when I opened the paper."
Ovechkin scored goals Nos. 59 and 60, and assisted on two others, to help the Capitals rally late in the third period for a 5-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday, keeping their playoff hopes alive. The 22-year-old Russian also became 19th player in league history to score 60 goals in a season, and the first since Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did it in 1995-96.
"I realize now it's something huge," Ovechkin said at Verizon Center, where he was attending the NCAA men's basketball tournament. "Sixty is a big number. I'm happy."
"There was pressure [to get to] 50, not 60."
One might assume that Maruk is disappointed now that he must share -- and soon could lose -- the record he owned for so long. But that's not the case. Maruk has become a big fan of Ovechkin's.
"Sad? No, not at all," Maruk said. "Records are meant to be broken. It's been a long time. I thought Peter Bondra was going to do it. He didn't, but I knew someone was going to come along and do it."
"He's a great hockey player," Maruk added, referring to Ovechkin. "I've watched him a lot, and I've been following him. I've also been cheering him on. I want him to make the playoffs."
Ovechkin can break Maruk's mark when the Capitals resume their playoff push Tuesday against the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C.
Maruk played 15 NHL seasons for four teams, including a five-year stint in Washington. He scored 50 goals for the Capitals in 1980-81, and then topped that with 60 the following year while playing on a line with Ryan Walter and Chris Valentine. But his achievement that season was overshadowed by Wayne Gretzky, whose 92 goals stands as the all-time record.
"That year, I went a bunch of games without scoring," Maruk said with a chuckle. "I probably could have had a bunch more."
These days, Maruk works for a high-end furniture company in Aspen. He also coaches the Aspen Leafs bantam team, and often hosts shooting and other skills clinics.
In recent weeks, Maruk has been keeping a close eye on Ovechkin and the Capitals, watching the games on television when possible and constantly checking the box scores in the local paper.
"Alex has got an all-around game," Maruk said. "He's very explosive and has a great release and a great shot. But he's always in good position. All great goal scorers put themselves in good position. He's also so strong and fast and hard to knock off the puck."
The 5-foot-8 Maruk, who in his prime was a feisty 165-pound center, also has a healthy appreciation for Ovechkin's center, Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom scored twice in the final four minutes Friday to clinch the win over the Thrashers and picked up his 50th assist.
"A big help for Ovechkin has been Backstrom setting him up," Maruk said. "He can't do it all himself. You have to have a centerman who can get him the puck. That's a big plus."
The same season Maruk scored 60 goals, he also amassed 76 assists and 136 points, both team records. He still has those -- for now, that is.
"That's a lot of points," Ovechkin said, smiling. "But maybe one day. Why not?"