The lesson: When it comes to scoring goals, don’t ever count out Ovechkin.
Now there are seven games left in the season and six goals to go for the Washington Capitals’ captain, who once again has his sights set on 50. An eighth 50-goal campaign would make him just the third NHL player with that many, joining legends Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy (who each had nine), and he’d be just the fifth player to score 50 goals at age 32 or older.
With the Capitals ahead of the second-place Pittsburgh Penguins by three points in the Metropolitan Division, a scoring surge from Ovechkin to end the regular season would benefit his team as it secures its playoff position.
“Everything is in my hands,” Ovechkin said. “Of course as you get closer and closer, you want to get it done.”
Said Coach Barry Trotz: “He’s right there. He’s capable of it. I think that’d be a personal milestone for him as sort of a rebound from last year.”
Trotz set the bar at 50 goals for his star when the Capitals were in training camp, a bold statement at the time considering Ovechkin’s production last season. Perhaps because Ovechkin’s ice time was at a career-low 18:22 per game — he’d never averaged less than 19:48 before that — or because a deep and talented Washington team didn’t need him to score every night to rack up wins en route to the league’s best regular-season record, he finished with 33 goals, a 17-goal drop from the year before. As the Capitals endured a tough summer, with salary-cap constraints forcing the departure of two top-six forwards, management expressed to Ovechkin that the team would need more scoring from him this year, even asking that he make some changes to his offseason training habits.
Ovechkin downplayed that, but his resurgent season — with 44 goals and 37 assists for 81 points in 75 games, he’s on pace to finish with the most points since the 2009-10 season, when he was 24 — has often carried a Washington roster that isn’t as talented as it was the past two years. When Ovechkin scores a goal, the Capitals are 25-6-2. When he records a point, they’re 34-9-3. But if he doesn’t score a goal, the team is 19-18-5, and if he doesn’t tally a point, the record drops to 10-15-4. Ovechkin has scored 18.9 percent of Washington’s goals, and his ice time is back to more than 20 minutes per game.
After Ovechkin scored his 40th goal of the season earlier this month, he said, “40 is nice, but 50 is better.”
“We’ve had a number of guys who have gone 20-plus games [without a goal] that we expected consistent scoring,” Trotz said. “He’s been the one consistent that’s allowed us to pile up some points when we can. I know he takes a lot of pride in being a guy that’s depended on to score, because that’s what he does and it’s so hard to do it in this league.”
Since Ovechkin scored the 600th goal of his career in a two-goal show against the Winnipeg Jets two weeks ago, he has just two goals in the past six games, although he also has five assists in that span for seven points. Over his career, Ovechkin has averaged 3.58 goals in his final six games of the season, with last year an outlier as he went without a goal down the stretch. In the seven seasons he scored 50, Ovechkin averaged 4.28 goals in his last six games. He could benefit from Washington’s next two games being against the New York Rangers, one of the league’s worst defensive teams, the Rangers allow 3.15 goals per game.
“I don’t think he focus on 50 goals, but for me, you know before the season I said he would score 50,” center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “So, he’s got few more games left, and why not? … But I don’t think he’s focused on that. He’s more focused on playing the right game because the important time coming soon.”
To Kuznetsov’s point, after Ovechkin answered questions about his personal achievements — potentially reaching 50 goals again or winning another Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for scoring the most goals in the league — he was asked whether he would trade all of that for a first Stanley Cup championship. The reporter didn’t even finish the question before Ovechkin answered succinctly.
“Yeah,” he said.
This season, the two might go hand in hand.
“He’s going to get 50 goals,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said the night of Ovechkin’s 600th. “You can just tell he’s very, very determined.”
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