Alex Ovechkin had already taken a seat on the bench, but his audience stayed standing, cheering all the while. This was his show, and Capital One Arena has been his stage for the past 13 years. He obliged, standing once more, waving to the crowd and applauding it back. Chants of “O-vi!” started. Ovechkin handed his stick to the Washington Capitals’ equipment manager in favor of a new one. He’d be saving the original.
“It’s going to be in history,” Ovechkin said. “You’ve got to collect the stuff.”
In a sequence befitting one of the NHL’s most prolific scorers of all time, Ovechkin notched his 600th career goal only after multiple whacks. There was a scramble in front of the net early in the second period, with Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck sprawled across the crease. The first shot was blocked. Hellebuyck saved the second. Ovechkin scored on the third, gleefully skating behind the net, dropping to a knee with a leg kicked up as his teammates jumped into his arms.
“I was just screaming at him,” said Tom Wilson, who recorded the primary assist.
Ovechkin’s two-goal game helped the Capitals to a 3-2 overtime win and made Ovechkin just the 20th player in NHL history with 600 goals on his résumé. He is just the fourth player to reach that mark within 1,000 games, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull. With Washington back at its home rink for the first time in nearly two weeks, Ovechkin ended the much-anticipated wait for his 600th tally less than 24 game minutes after the puck dropped.
“When you look at those numbers, you don’t even think it’s 599, 600,” said the Capitals’ Evgeny Kuznetsov, who scored the overtime winner. “But then when you understand, holy f---, that’s a lot of goals. I can’t score 20 in a year. This is 600.”
The 599th goal was quintessential Ovechkin. Two penalties by the Jets within 35 seconds of each other gave the Capitals a two-man advantage early in the first period. Ovechkin has scored roughly 70 percent of his goals at even strength this season, but his career highlight reel is full of one-timers from the left faceoff circle, referred to as his office.
Taking a pass from defenseman John Carlson, Ovechkin skated into his sweet spot and wristed the puck past Hellebuyck, building even more anticipation that the milestone 600th tally might follow by the time the night was over. Ovechkin’s wife, Nastya, just returned from Moscow and was in the stands. Before the game, she told him she had a feeling he would score two. He had a whopping eight shot attempts after the first period, and he finished the night with eight shots on goal, the most dominant player on the ice.
“This morning, he was really quiet,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “He knew he was going to get it done today. The great thing about Ovi is, when he puts something to it in his mind, he was going to get it done tonight. We were all talking as a coaching staff about it this morning that he’s getting it tonight.”
It’s a testament to Ovechkin that he has scored so frequently from that same beloved location in the left faceoff circle. Teams expect it, plan for it, but still can’t stop it. Earlier this season, St. Louis Blues goaltender Carter Hutton called it an “almost unsaveable shot.”
The threat of Ovechkin’s shot has never been a question, but in the past four seasons under Trotz, his game has evolved. Trotz challenged him to be more defensively responsible, and Ovechkin bought into Trotz’s system while still authoring two 50-goal campaigns. Last season was a down one by his standards, and he scored just 33 goals, with 17 of them coming on the power play. The Capitals challenged Ovechkin to make some changes this summer, to trim down so he could move quicker on the ice in a league that’s getting faster with the infusion of young, talented stars.
Ovechkin shared the ice with one of those members of the next generation Monday. Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine grew up on Ovechkin highlights, modeling his game after the power forward. The 19-year-old Finn loved how physical Ovechkin played, and Laine developed his own dangerous shot. He scored his 16th goal in the past 12 games early in the third period to tie the score at 2. He was also on the ice when Ovechkin recorded his 600th goal.
“I was pretty close watching it,” Laine said. “I was in a good spot. Just behind him. I was there when he made history, so I can maybe watch that someday and show that I was there getting the minus on the ice.”
Ovechkin and Laine entered this matchup tied for the NHL lead with 40 goals. Asked whether Ovechkin sees “a young Ovi” in Laine, he countered, “Well, I’m still young.” He then rubbed his chin and pointed out how he had recently shaved. By the end of the game, Ovechkin pulled ahead of him in the goal-scoring race with 42 goals to Laine’s 41.
“Ovi’s still king,” Trotz said.
“I didn’t have any doubt he was going to get the record tonight,” owner Ted Leonsis said. “The pantheon that he’s in with Gretzky and Lemieux and Hull is really amazing, and he’s that kind of player. My hope is that we can win a Stanley Cup. I have to keep doing everything I can to try and make a team that’s as generationally supportive and as great as Alex has been for our franchise.”
Since his rookie season in 2005-06, Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals, points, power-play goals, power-play points, game-winning goals, overtime goals and shots.
And he’s already on to the next goal, the next big milestone.
“Of course it’s special,” he said. “Of course you want to do it more and more. It’s 600. Now you have to score another one to make 601.”
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