Ovechkin’s landmark goal came at 4:50 of the third period during the Washington Capitals’ 3-2 loss at the New Jersey Devils. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nick Jensen assisted on the goal, which tied the score at 2.
As he was falling down behind the net, Kuznetsov fed Ovechkin, and the captain unleashed a one-timer from the right faceoff dot that beat Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood.
“Obviously, when you get closer, you were thinking about it, when it’s going to happen,” Ovechkin said. “But I knew someday, even if I didn’t score today, we still have 20 games [left] — and one goal, I was good.”
Ovechkin reached the milestone on the road rather than in front of an adoring home crowd that has embraced him since his debut more than 14 years ago, but the moment brought no shortage of celebration from the visiting team. His teammates excitedly jumped off the bench, and the game was momentarily stopped as the Devils’ fans gave him a standing ovation.
“We’re proud of him,” Kuznetsov said. “Like I always say, I see him every day, and you don’t really realize who you play with. The guy [has] the chance to be No. 1 in the whole history.”
“I was just screaming,” linemate Tom Wilson said. “I just had that feeling when it went to him. . . . It’s been a lot of fun for us. It’s been a lot of fun for anyone involved in hockey to watch what he’s been doing. So I don’t think many people are going to forget the achievements that he’s getting.”
Ovechkin’s goal couldn’t make up for the Capitals’ shortcomings, and the game ended with a letdown of a loss after the Devils’ Damon Severson scored on a power play with 1:59 left. Washington is 1-5-1 in its past seven games and 11-12-1 since Dec. 23.
“I think it’s not panic,” Ovechkin said. “I think we get tight a little bit in our shoulders. We tied the game. Everything was good on our side. But we just take two penalties, and it cost us two points or one point, whatever.”
His team is struggling, but the Capitals’ captain is showing no signs of slowing. He had a stunning heater over the past month or so, scoring 14 goals in a seven-game span before going five games without one.
Now his scoring surge has resumed: He secured his 699th goal Thursday in an overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens and got the landmark tally against the Devils to give him 42 for the season — leaving him just one off the league lead entering Saturday night’s action.
The list of all-time greats he has blown past during this run: Teemu Selanne, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and Mark Messier in January alone. Hockey royalty all. Up next: Mike Gartner (708), Phil Esposito (717) and Marcel Dionne (731). At the top of the list, of course, is Wayne Gretzky (894).
Gretzky’s mark has long been considered uncatchable. Now?
The goals will come, Ovechkin has said, if not now, then in the next game. If not the next game, then the next. He never rushed to hit 700; his pure goal-scoring abilities just allowed him to do it at an accelerated pace. What he achieves after this is uncertain, but the signs of sustainability are unmistakable.
“He just keeps scoring. He doesn’t show any signs of slowing down,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “Since I’ve been on the team almost five years now, Ovi hasn’t changed. He hasn’t lost his step, gotten slower; his shot hasn’t gotten softer. He hasn’t lost his drive — he’s had more drive.”
The history just keeps coming: Ovechkin joined Gordie Howe (786 with the Detroit Red Wings) as the only players with 700 goals for one franchise. And while goal No. 700 will never be forgotten, it was the culmination of his goals over the past month that showed not only Ovechkin’s sophisticated scoring prowess but his love for the game.
“I don’t give a [darn] what era it would be,” Esposito said. “Alex Ovechkin would be still scoring goals, in any era, anywhere. . . . When he first came in, I loved him. When he scored, and he still does it today, he loves it. He jumps up and down. A couple of times I thought he was going to jump over the glass.”
Oshie has called Ovechkin’s love for scoring “infectious.” With each goal over the past month, the pure joy showed more and the looks of awe from the benches — both Washington’s and the opponent’s — increased.
The Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon said he is certain Ovechkin will “score 50 until he’s 50 years old.”
“One of the best to ever play,” the Vancouver Canucks’ Quinn Hughes said. “Just breaking records now. He’s one of those guys, when you get on the ice with them, you kind of stare at him, and it’s Alex Ovechkin.”
His greatness is increasingly difficult for his teammates to describe. But it created a type of childlike glee around a team that has been atop the NHL for much of the season.
It could be seen in the Capitals’ dressing room after Ovechkin’s stunning hat trick against the New York Islanders on Jan. 18 helped them overcome a three-goal third-period deficit. Smiles were wide, jokes were cracked, and laughs echoed down the hallway. It was seen again at Ottawa on Jan. 31, when he scored two goals to move into eighth on the all-time list and received a standing ovation from Senators fans. And it was seen Feb. 4 in Washington, when he scored three straight goals in a span of 4:24 late in the third period in a win over the Los Angeles Kings, sending hats raining down from the red-clad crowd.
“It’s crazy. I think you take it for granted a bit. . . . When we are used to hearing crazy stats, it becomes normal,” defenseman John Carlson said.
With 21 games left, Ovechkin has more names to pass on the all-time list, and he’s on pace to crack 50 goals for the ninth time in his 15-year NHL career.
“The rest of us,” Oshie said, “are kind of in awe with how he does it.”