It was just a couple years ago that many wondered if Alex Ovechkin’s best days were behind him.
Back-to-back seasons with fewer than 40 goals — extraordinary numbers for most players — were considered less than ordinary for someone like Ovechkin.
But the Capitals star has since reclaimed his scoring touch, with 51 goals in his past 55 games.
His next goal will vault him into exclusive company as the 89th player in NHL history to score 400 career goals. If Ovechkin scores against the Hurricanes on Friday, he would become the sixth-fastest player to reach that milestone.
“My job is [to] score goals,” Ovechkin said Thursday. “That’s why I get paid, and that’s why I’m still here. If I’m not scoring goals, I’m not [helping] my team to win the game. … It’s good accomplishment for me and good accomplishment for my teammates.”
Compared to the rest of his portfolio, goal No. 399 was unspectacular. Against the Flyers on Tuesday, Ovechkin corralled a loose puck that Flyers goaltender Steve Mason failed to smother and simply backhanded it into the net for his 28th goal of the season.
Such a goal, though, is indicative of how Ovechkin has transformed as a goal-scorer. The dazzling rushes and blistering one-timers are still there, but dirty yet effective goals — rebounds, deflections in traffic — are now part of his repertoire.
“Now he’s in different positions to score,” forward Brooks Laich said. “I think if you saw a shot tracker of his shots before and his opportunities before, it’d be heavy one-sided and from certain spots, whereas now I think it would be scattered all across the ice: in tight on both sides, out more, both slots, forehand, backhand. He’s now dangerous anywhere on the ice.”
Coach Adam Oates is also impressed with how Ovechkin has been able to adapt to the changes of the game around him.
“It’s fantastic because goaltending gets better and better every year and teams’ structure gets better and better every year,” Oates said. “To keep putting up numbers is going to be a real accomplishment in the game of hockey.”