Alexander Ovechkin is about to reach uncharted territory for a Russian-born hockey player: the 700-goal mark. As of this writing, he sits at 682 career goals, which ranks him 12th among all-time NHL skaters. The crazy part about all of it? He still has plenty in the tank. With 24 goals through 41 games, Ovechkin is proving he isn’t even close to done yet and has the potential to climb the list in substantial fashion.
At 34 years old, he’s setting an unprecedented pace, which has the entire hockey world sitting up and taking notice. Reaching a prestigious mark like this means you’re joining the elite of the elite when it comes to goalscorers. Straight-up snipers that had goalies of all generations shaking in their boots. The kind of hockey talent that had you on the edge of your seat every time you watched them take the ice.
As you can imagine when you’re discussing the 700-goal club, the company are all breathing in rarified air. The likes of Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe outline the leaders, whereas guys like Mike Gartner (Washington Capitals alumni), Mario Lemieux and Teemu Selanne highlight those closest to “Ovi.” Selanne, “The Finnish Flash,” is a measly two goals ahead of Ovechkin for 11th on the pedestal and you have to factor in the guy had 76 goals in his rookie season, and six 40-plus goal campaigns. Lemieux has had one of the most storied careers in NHL history and finished with 690 markers, despite only playing 915 games (simply wow). Here’s a bold prediction: the Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins 13 games from now. How cool would it be if Ovechkin passed Lemieux at home against the Penguins with Mario watching?
The big question for everyone is likely “how far back of Gretzky is Ovechkin for the all-time record?” The answer: 212. It’s a long shot to say the least, but the fact that Ovechkin is nearing 700 is a massive accomplishment in itself. When you factor in the thousands of players who have played in the National Hockey League to date, it’s very hard to make the company of a dozen exceptional players. Ovechkin has done just that, and in less time than most.
Unparalleled talent, unwavering consistency and freakish durability. Those are the attributes demanded of you in order to achieve what “Alex the Great” has in his career. Everyone knows the goal-scoring statistics: eight 50-plus goal seasons, 10 with 40-plus and 11 with 15-plus power play tallies. It’s “Ovechkin’s Wheelhouse” for a reason at this point. But, here’s what people don’t understand about Ovi that’s truly allowed him to achieve the unbelievable: he has only missed 30 games over his 15-year career. That’s an average of two games missed per season, although 10 of those games occurring in the 2009-10 season.
His physicality and body have stood the test of time, which is unheard of given his playing style. For as many highlight-reel goals as he’s scored, he’s had just as many highlight-reel hits where he flung his entire body weight into another player. Somehow, he has still managed to stay very healthy throughout his career and minimize suspensions.
Ovechkin has grown very intelligent over the years with how he needs to play the game. He’s realized that in order to sustain his longevity he needs to maintain himself, and take breaks when necessary. Everyone is extremely disappointed he’s missing this year’s All-Star Game for the second-straight time, but from a player standpoint, it’s a diligent decision. The Capitals play the Islanders on the Jan. 18, but don’t suit up again until the 27th after the All-Star break. This allows the captain nine days to recover and rest up for the remaining 34 games of the season and a deep playoff run. That’s maturity and learning what his body needs over the years to perform at an exceptional level.
How exceptional has his play been? “The Great 8” was the fourth-fastest player to reach the 600-goal mark, trailing only Gretzky, Lemieux and Brett Hull (not a terrible group). He pulled off the feat in only 990 career games, and has since supplemented 82 goals in 135 games (a rate of 0.6 goals per game since hitting 600). With 18 tallies remaining to the elusive 700, he has the potential to be the third-fastest player to that plateau since Gretzky and Hull.
These figures always spark the conversation comparing the different eras and the relevancy of goal scoring. Simply put, it was easier to score goals in the 1980s and 1990s with a significant difference lying in the goaltending. Comparing Ron Hextall, or Grant Fuhr to the likes of Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, or Braden Holtby isn’t even worth the discussion. It’s not a fair fight. This just improves the argument for how special Ovechkin’s scoring clip has been.
The Russian Legacy
As much as Ovechkin’s accomplishments mean to the NHL as a collective, it means even more for the Russian hockey world. He has paved a whole new path for Russian players to follow and is continuing to set new marks for the young athletes to chase.
He ranks first in all-time goals, points, power play goals and game-winning goals among Russian players. He would be the only Russian goalscorer to eclipse the 700-goal mark and currently sits 199 markers ahead of Sergei Fedorov (second on the all-time list). The only guy chasing him at this point? Evgeni Malkin. Malkin has had a storied career as well, but sadly won’t be able to keep up with his older counterpart due to battles with injuries each season. With 402 markers and 1,040 points, there is little doubt he will finish second all-time behind his slightly older countryman.
Last season Ovechkin skipped the All-Star Game to enjoy some much-needed rest, and came back after the break slumping. He went four straight games without a goal (four assists), but then went white hot with seven goals in seven games. The prediction is he comes back from the break in a similar fashion and lights the lamp at a rapid pace.
Let’s ballpark that he finds the twine six times over the eight games before the break. He would be 12 shy of the 700 mark heading into the All-Star break. The Capitals have a cushy schedule after the break with the Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, Ottawa Senators, Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers in their first six games back. That’s the type of schedule that Ovechkin will relish and should provide adequate sunburn for the goaltenders, seeing their red light going off consistently. Here’s the call: Ovechkin hits the 700 mark against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 25 (14 games after the break), which coincidentally is the team he hit the 600-goal mark against. How’s that for a storyline?
Making the NHL is no easy task. Scoring a goal in the NHL is even more far-fetched. But scoring 700 career NHL goals? That’s just insanity. But somehow, Ovechkin is nearing that achievement and it can’t be understated how impressive that accolade truly is. The guy has been special ever since he put on the Caps jersey on June 26 in Raleigh, North Carolina. His career is blooming into one of the most impressive ever in the 102-year history of the NHL, and it’s not complete yet. I believe we can all look forward to reading many more articles on the upcoming achievements for “The Great 8” and forecast this won’t be the last time we revel in his greatness.