Ovechkin scored as a power play expired later in the game, a snap shot beating goaltender Steve Mason. That was his 44th goal of the season, still six shy of the 50-goal mark that has become the standard for one of hockey’s greatest goal-scorers. He may fall just short of that goal this season.
Before Wednesday night’s 2-1 shootout loss in Philadelphia, Trotz switched Evgeny Kuznetsov to be Ovechkin’s center, hoping the two would help each other get out of their recent funk. In Ovechkin’s past 15 games, he had just two even-strength goals and posted a minus-seven. Kuznetsov didn’t have a point in his past five games and was a minus-five in that span.
It’s unclear if Kuznetsov will remain Ovechkin’s center, but against the Flyers, the two combined for six shots on goal, the post Ovechkin drilled not included. Trotz said he thought they made for a good line during the game and generated more chances.
“They’ve both been pretty quiet for a little while here,” Trotz said Wednesday morning. “Kuzy, just the last couple of games, and Ovi’s been quiet for quite a while here. I mean, his production is always pretty high. We have high expectations for him.”
After scoring 12 goals in 13 games in February, Ovechkin has just four goals in 15 games in March. Despite the slight drop in production, Ovechkin is still on pace to win his sixth Rocket Richard Trophy, and it’d be the fourth straight season he’s won it. He leads the league in goals with 44, with Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn tied for second with 39. If the season ended today, this would be just the second season in Ovechkin’s career that he’s averaged less than a point per game, the other being 2011-12.
Does reaching the 50-goal mark for a seventh time in his career matter to Ovechkin?
“Yeah, of course,” Ovechkin said before Wednesday’s game. “I have seven goals or six goals until 50. If I get it, it will be cool. But if not, that’s okay. I was there.”
With six games to go and six goals short, the feat seems unlikely unless he goes on a scoring tear to close the regular season. Stranger things have certainly happened, and if Ovechkin did reach 50 goals, he’d become just the third player in NHL history with at least seven career 50-goal seasons. (Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy are the other two).
“For me, the biggest thing is when Ovi is skating and he’s battling and he’s supporting the puck and he’s working a 200-foot game, he gets some time and space and then he can work his magic,” Trotz said Monday. “Right now, I think he’s skating better than he has been probably in the last 15 games and then on our power play we haven’t had a lot of opportunities – they’re sitting right in his pocket. He’s okay with that. What happens is we shoot it from the middle of the ice and get a goal.
“Obviously, 50 is a big mark. I don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all for Ovi. I think there’s bigger things on his mind, but I’d like to see him get hot right before the playoffs. Last year, going into the playoffs, he was hot, he was skating well, he was a big body, he was a force going into the playoffs, and it carried right through. Hopefully, in the last number of games here, he can be that force that he was last year.”