Alex Ovechkin and his 500 goals, as remembered by the goalies he’s tormented
On a Wednesday night in the first week of October in 2005, Columbus Blue Jackets rookie netminder Pascale Leclaire stood in the crease at MCI Center safeguarding a 1-0 lead against the black-and-gold clad Washington Capitals. As the puck skittered behind Leclaire's net to the corner, a black-sweatered skater glided into the slot, unmarked by any Blue Jacket defenseman. A pass from Capitals winger Dainius Zubrus slid from the corner to the slot and in an instant the skater uncorked a one-timer like lightning. The thunder followed.
The goal lamp glowed red behind Leclaire as spotlights above converged on the goal-scorer. At their nexus a 20-year-old exulted, arms up-raised, a golden No. 8 glistening on his back.
Alex Ovechkin had scored his first NHL goal. The roaring Caps fans, and the league at large, got their first glimpse of greatness.
“I think right off the bat you could see he was a special player,” Leclaire told The Washington Post early this month. “For me, I’m not surprised at all that he’s had the career he’s having so far. It just made sense. Special players are special players and you can see it pretty early on how good they are.”
Over the 10-plus years since Ovechkin's first game on Oct. 5, 2005, 499 more goals followed. On Jan. 10, 2016, Ovechkin gathered another pass out of the corner near slot -- no more than 10 feet from where he scored his first goal -- and fired a wrist shot over the flailing glove of the Ottawa Senators' Andrew Hammond, lighting the goal light for the 500th time.
Ovechkin has been a scoring scourge for every goalie that has opposed him. No one has been spared, not even former teammates. Olaf Kolzig occupied the Capitals' crease the night of Ovechkin's NHL debut. Just over three years later, Ovechkin slipped a rebound past Kolzig while the goalie played his final season with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"To be one of the guys that he scored against when it counted – he scored on me enough in practice – but to contribute to one of his [now 500] goals, I guess it’s fitting," Kolzig said, a day after he watched Ovechkin score No. 497 in Brooklyn.
In total, Ovechkin has scored on 115 different goaltenders on his road to 500. To commemorate the milestone, The Washington Post attempted to track them all down. Some proved too elusive. (Anyone know where Adam Munro is these days?) Others declined to comment. But those willing to recall their duels with Ovechkin offered some illuminating insights about his talent, his highlights and his ever-growing legacy.
Alex Ovechkin scored his 500th goal Sunday night. (Drew Hallowell / Getty Images)
"With his one-timer on the power play, you know he’s there, you know he’s gonna take the one-timer. You’re basically getting in the way and at that point it’s a Hail Mary. You’re saying your rosary because you’re just hoping that puck is going to hit you. If it does hit you, it’s like, ‘man, he’s such a good goalie.’ If it doesn’t hit you, it’s in the net ... it hurts when it does hit you." - Martin Biron, 4 goals allowed to Ovechkin
"If you get caught not knowing he has the puck and he’s coming to the wing, you’re late already." - Antti Niemi, 4 goals allowed
"I don’t know if you’ve seen the curve on his stick, but it’s pretty lethal. You never know where it’s gonna go. He does such a good job of getting it off in so many different scenarios. He’s not just a one-trick pony, he can do a bunch of different things when he has the puck." - Ben Bishop, 10 goals allowed
"I think he scored his first two goals against me. I remember that night, obviously, because that was the first time I was starting a season in the NHL. I remember that game because he scored on me, but for me that was also a big step." - Pascal Leclaire, 5 goals allowed
"During the game, he’s definitely a guy that likes to talk to the goalies. I’ve always noticed that. He’s a guy that’s not shy coming around your net letting you know he’s coming to get one. ... And obviously he backs it up a lot." - Carter Hutton, 2 goals allowed
"In practices, he doesn’t shoot hard. He doesn’t want to hurt the goalies." - Jaroslav Halak, 7 goals allowed
"[It's] not only his release, which is extremely quick, but some guys in the league just shoot quick and some guys shoot hard and heavy. His shot has both." - Leclaire
Fastest players to reach 500 goals
Alex Ovechkin becomes the fifth-fastest player to reach 500 goals in NHL history
"Whenever I played against him, I never wanted to squeeze the puck if I didn’t have to. I didn’t want to take a faceoff in our end. If we lost the draw and he was out there, he would fire and it would be in the back of the net so fast. So when I played him I never wanted to take a lot of whistles if I didn’t have to. I wanted to try to keep the puck moving. [He] made you think and adapt your game plan for him. That’s what great players do." - Scott Clemmensen, 8 goals allowed
"What makes him really special is that he can also beat you with a deke, or outmuscle defenders for a rebound." - Jhonas Enroth, 4 goals allowed
“They were winning 5-1 in that hockey game, and I had not had a very good game. I just knew that I did not want him to beat me with a shot on a one-on-one because he has the ability to score off the rush like that. I was super aggressive. He ended up tucking it through Paul Mara and taking it from the right faceoff circle and taking it all the way almost to the bottom left circle meanwhile falling on his back. I just was out so far that I couldn’t recover pushing on my skates and on my knees. I had to eventually resort to a dive tactic, and I dove – and with my stick outstretched – hoping I was covering enough net. And yet, he still was able to get his stick on it and whack it towards the net." - Brian Boucher, 2 goals allowed, but one more memorable than the other
“When I saw the replay of how he ended up scoring that goal, it was quite remarkable.” - Boucher
"It was my first year in the league and my first game in Washington. It was actually probably 10 seconds into the game where they won the faceoff, he came in 1-on-1 and shot through the [defenseman's] legs and scored low blocker. That was quite a moment. First 10 seconds?" - Jonathan Bernier, 2 goals allowed
"It probably wasn’t one of his more patented goals. It was a little rebound on a shot that he just whacked in. It was definitely one of the strangest games I ever played, from a personal standpoint." - Olaf Kolzig, former teammate, 1 goal allowed
"His wrist shot is very comparable to a lot of guys’ slap shots. He hit me with a wrist shot in the cage, the puck came down and bounced off the ice into the net for a goal. Usually it hits the cage and the puck kind of dies. He hit me in the face and still scored. That’s a goal-scorer right there." - Clemmensen
"The thing I find the hardest about him, lots of the time he shoots the puck knuckles a lot. ... It's not a 95 miles per hour fastball, it's a 95 miles per hour knuckleball. That's what I find the hardest. That's why he scores so many times from so far out. ... He has the release, the heavy shot and he skates so fast. Put that all together and he's just a heck of a player. " - James Reimer, 6 goals allowed
"If you’re up 4-1 and they get a power play with two minutes left, you might as well say, I’ll take the 4-2. I just don’t want to get hit. He’s such a force." - Biron
"When you get older, you can look back and see highlights and special goals and it doesn’t feel so bad that you were the one that gave them up … but I’ve given up a couple of special ones this year. [I allowed Connor] McDavid’s first goal, I think we’re gonna see that when I’m 80-years-old on a device that’s the new TV." - Kari Lehtonen, 19 goals allowed
"Every goal he scores is pretty amazing most of the time. [The one I most remember] might have been the first time he scored on me, I don't know if it was my first or second year, but they were on a 5-on-3 and he was posted up on his side. He got the pass and one-timed it and I remember it was a perfect shot. It went right off the corner piece and in on my blocker side. I remember hardly being able to see the puck. ... I remember thinking that you have to be at least 50-percent lucky to stop him when that shot comes in." - Reimer
"In the NHL, I can tell that he is the best [Russian] of all time. I really respect lots of players that have played in the league, the Russian players [like Sergei] Fedorov and [Pavel] Bure, those guys, the top guys who were superstars in the league. Ovi passed all of them." - Semyon Varlamov, 1 goal allowed
"I think it’ll be hard to beat Gretzky. It’s tough to compare generations, I think, because the game is so different. Every five years or so, the game changes and even more every 10 years. He’s definitely going to go down as one of the best shots, one of the best goal-scorers in the history of the game." - Leclaire
"I think you have to look at it contextually a little bit. The past 10 years hasn’t exactly been a goal scoring Mecca. To get to 50 [goals] now is a little like getting to 60 or 70 back in the 1980s where some of the greatest goal scorers had been. He’s only, what, 30 or 31? So obviously guys slow down when they get older, but with the passion and the energy that he plays with, he could have another five, six, or seven strong goal-scoring years and that will put him in the conversation for greatest goal-scorer of all time." - Cory Schneider, 3 goals allowed
"He’s going to be at the top, obviously. ... We’re all talking about [Jaromir] Jagr right now. Jagr is at, what, 731 goals I believe [735 now]? Ovechkin could play another seven or eight years scoring close to 50 a year. You’re talking another 300 goals. He could easily get to 800 by the time it’s all said and done and that will be way up there with the best goal-scorers in the NHL." - Biron
"Obviously the big one [I remember] was the highlight-reel one last year. I remember he beat the defenseman clean -- which is fine, it happens -- in a mini-breakaway and he pulled it across to his backhand. I swore I was with him, blocker right on him and he somehow got it elevated back through my arm under the bar and in. The move was fantastic, but the finish was something I didn’t think many guys could do. That’s probably number one that sticks out in my mind." - Schneider
"Everybody has a lot of respect for him. He’s been a machine. I don’t know how many he had in his first season, but if you can score 50-plus goals a few seasons, or a bunch of seasons in a row, that tells you a lot of good things about the guy." - Halak
"The one thing I really admire about him is the passion. The way he shows up every night. He’s a great leader. The hardest part is to do it over and over in hockey or in any sport. For him to do it every year like he’s been doing is amazing." - Bernier
"We had a pretty good veteran group ... when he first came in. I feel like we had a small part in him starting off his NHL career the way he did. Obviously he’s continued to do it." - Kolzig
"Every year it will get tougher and tougher because we’re all getting old. But Ovi looks like he’s in great shape, taking care of himself. I’m sure he’s going to get 700 goals the way he’s playing, maybe more. Who knows? Maybe he’ll beat Gretzky. Ovi, good luck." - Varlamov
"I was in Atlanta and we played against him a lot. He seemed like he’d get one or two every night against me. I think I was leading there for who he scored the most against for a long time. And then I unfortunately I got traded to the west [laughs]. I hope I’m not on the top of that list anymore." - Lehtonen
You're in luck, Kari. How fitting that the goalie that Ovechkin, the greatest goal-scorer of his generation, has beaten more than any other is largely seen as the greatest netminder of his era. Let's allow him the final word.
"Over the 10 years, he’s adjusted his game. Everybody does, because you change as a person, you change physically and you understand the game better. Especially as a goal scorer, it’s more about placement, being in the right spot, reading the game. That way you save a lot of energy and not skate around and hit everybody all of the time. He still does that, but he doesn’t do it as much. He’s matured a lot. ... I don’t know how long he’ll play for, but he’s a great asset to the league." - Henrik Lundqvist, 20 goals allowed