The number of shattered milestones left in forward Alex Ovechkin’s wake had long since reached preposterous levels, to the point that his teammates now struggle keeping up. To wit, Tuesday afternoon, with Ovechkin on the doorstep of both his sixth 50-goal season and the Capitals’ all-time mark for goals, forward Troy Brouwer looked confused when asked about Ovechkin breaking an unidentified record.
“No,” Brouwer said, searching for clarification. “What record?”
Since Ovechkin already snatched franchise records for points (889), power play goals (173), game-winning goals (80), overtime goals (15), shots (3,805) and multi-goal games (99), few records remain. Passing Peter Bonrda for shorthanded goals seems unrealistic, but Ovechkin now stands one behind the legend for total goals. With his two-score explosion Sunday against New York, Ovechkin inched into striking distance, with 471 to Bondra’s 472.
A rare double-dip will come whenever Ovechkin’s next puck strikes the net. (The Capitals host Carolina on Tuesday before embarking on a three-game road trip, their last of the season.) One more goal will also rocket Ovechkin into his sixth 50-goal season, something only five players – Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Marcel Dionne, Guy Lafleur and Mario Lemieux – have accomplished.
Only a handful of Capitals have ever approached such a gaudy number. Forward Eric Fehr reached 50 goals twice with the Brandon Wheat Kings in juniors, which he said meant having to “set a pretty good pace” and avoid any “long dry spell, which was probably the trickiest part of the whole thing.” Brouwer, on the other hand, fell one goal short in 2005-06, also in the Western Hockey League with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
“Yeah, I got 49, thanks for reminding me,” Brouwer cracked. “It was a fun chase. I know everybody has numbers in their minds at the beginning of the season, and I know for him it’s 50, which for the majority of us is an unreachable number for the most part. For him to be able to do it year after year, it’s very impressive.”
Among the other ridiculous statistics Ovechkin now holds to his name:
Since breaking into the NHL in 2005-06, Ovechkin’s 471 goals are 135 more than anyone else, a roughly
33.5 40.2 percent difference. (Edit: Bad math.) Those are also the most since 2001-02, or three seasons before Ovechkin even dressed at this level.
Only two players – Jarome Iginla and Sidney Crosby – are even within 40 of Ovechkin’s multi-goal game total of 99 since his rookie season. His 14 such outings this season alone also tied the Capitals’ franchise record. If only his multi-goal games counted this season, he’d still be tied for 14th in the NHL with 28.
Coach Barry Trotz, on the other hand, pointed to more current feats. Save Ovechkin, only Rick Nash and Steven Stamkos have reached 40 goals this season, and both sit right on the mark, nine behind Ovechkin. Only eight others, meanwhile, have registered between 30 and 37 goals this season.
“It’s pretty astounding,” said Trotz, who never even coached a 35-goal-scorer in Nashville. “He cares about the team. He’s in a good place in his life where he wants to win, he understands the team process, he’s continuing to learn and respect the game. As he’s getting older, I think he appreciates the mortality end of being an NHL player and what he wants to accomplish in his career. All those things are really good. He’s an honest guy. He’s just straightforward and tells you what he thinks and when you ask him to do something, he’ll do it.”
For Trotz, that meant moving Ovechkin back to left wing, where he had skated before Adam Oates switched the 29-year-old onto his dominant-hand side. Ovechkin recounted those initial conversations as a simple order-and-execute situation. Trotz wanted Ovechkin on the left. Ovechkin returned there.
“We just talk with Barry right away, where he see me out there, and he told me, you’re going to play on the left side,” Ovechkin said. “Said it doesn’t matter. I have experience playing both sides. For me, I just have to do my job and help this team to win and get success.”
And look at him now, the anchor of a team about to avenge its first postseason absence since 2006-07, a Hart Trophy finalist by every measure – advanced statistics, conventional ones or the eye test – and still leaving records in the icy trail of his skates.
“It’s a tough league, and when you start scoring goals, people start to watch you, watch your tendencies, and you have to find new ways to score goals,” Fehr said. “It’s definitely not an easy number to get to. I think the most impressive thing is just how consistent he’s been. I think the one year he had 30 goals, but for the majority of the time he’s up there in the 50s and 60s, which is really hard to believe in this day and age, with scoring down as much as it is, that a guy can consistently score that much.”