While some of the talk coming into the season was if Alex Ovechkin could catch Wayne Gretzky‘s goal-scoring mark before his new five-year contract expired, he ended up starting the new campaign with one of the best months of his long NHL career.
Ovechkin’s October saw him score nine goals – tops among all NHL skaters – and also finish with 15 points, which is tied for second in the NHL, and just one point back of Connor McDavid. His all-time goal total rose to 739, just two behind Brett Hull for fourth in league history, and he’s now now 27 behind Jaromir Jagr for third, which seems a very attainable goal this season with his hot start.
On Tuesday, Ovechkin was named the NHL’s First Star for the month of October.
Certainly, Ovechkin won’t keep up the better than goal-per-game pace he had in October, but it’s not out of the question he has a shot at his first 50-goal season since 2018-19, or his fourth straight 40-goal output in seasons 68 games or longer.
Considering the Capitals have been without one of their top forwards, Nicklas Backstrom, for the entire campaign so far, and the team went without a regulation loss for the entire month of October (5-0-3) before finally falling in regulation Monday, Ovechkin has been one of the key catalysts for Washington’s early success, with one of the more productive months of his career, even at age 36.
Many NHL legends have found themselves on the downside of their careers at that age. Gretzky had just two more full seasons with the New York Rangers after he turned 36, while Mario Lemieux only had one season playing more than 65 games after he passed that birthday due to various injuries. Jagr was wrapping up his stint with the New York Rangers at Ovechkin’s age at the end of the 2007-08 season, and headed over to Europe for several seasons before returning from 2011 to 2018, playing several seasons for different teams, but only reaching the 25-goal mark once with the Florida Panthers in 2015-16. Only Gordie Howe still had years to play after turning 36, and he only reached the 40-goal mark once more despite playing in the NHL and WHA until age 51.
Ovechkin’s October to Remember
Ovechkin recorded 15 points in a single month for the first time since Jan 2020 – which he hit that mark with two more games played then – and set a career-best points-per-game for any calendar month of his career with a 1.88 points-per-game average. The last time he came close to a monthly pace as productive as this one was in March 2008, when he recorded a 1.86 goals-per-game clip with 14 goals and 12 assists in 14 games as the Capitals chased down the Carolina Hurricanes and closed in on the Southeast Division title, which was Washington’s first playoff appearance of the Ovechkin era.
Ovechkin needed the fewest games for him to reach 15 points in a season since 2009-10 – also eight games – and he matched the club record that he set in his rookie season of 2005-06 with a point in eight straight games to start a season, which Alexander Semin also equalled in 2006-07. The streak ended Monday night in a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the first game of November and Washington’s ninth contest.
What also made this start to the season so impressive was his consistency to the totals – he scored a goal in all but one game during October, and recorded a point in every single game that month. He scored six even-strength goals, two power-play goals and even his first short-handed goal since 2010.
Even though Backstrom wasn’t on the ice this past month, he also did deliver an assist for Ovechkin in a new memorable commercial (“Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom ask ‘What then?’ in new commercial,” Washington Post, Oct. 12, 2021) for MassMutual, which also brought the Russian star back to the forefront on both national and regional telecasts.
Ovechkin Finds Consistency in Production
Ovechkin wasn’t necessarily dominant as he has been in his younger days, but he was very productive, with a pair of two-goal games as well as a pair of two-assist games, with one of each in a four-point season-opening performance against the New York Rangers.
The last time Ovechkin won the NHL’s Player of the Month Award was Jan 2020, two months before the league shut down in a pause that seemed to threaten his chase of the all-time goals mark.
However, the pause has allowed Ovechkin to get a bit of a break on the wear and tear on his body, with just 54 regular-season games and 13 playoff games in the last 18 months. Since the return from the pause, he has recorded 33 goals in that 54-game span, a 0.61 goals-per-game clip, which is almost exactly at his career average.
Ovechkin also is on pace for 55 assists, which would be his first 50-assist campaign since 2010-11 – and he hasn’t had even a 40-assist effort since that season either as he has become known for his goal-scoring prowess, but has also taken advantage of the extra attention he gets to feed his linemates.
Certainly, Ovechkin has looked solid despite suffering what appeared to be a serious injury in the team’s preseason finale against the Philadelphia Flyers, but he returned for the regular-season opener seemingly no worse for wear.
“When we play simple, we move the puck in the offensive zone, move our legs in the neutral zone, it give us more opportunity to create and have chances,” Ovechkin said Friday after the win over the Arizona Coyotes. “Obviously, Kuzy right now feel it, Willy is always going, and I just try to find the open spot and put the puck in.”
“I don’t think it’s a surprise,” Carlson said of Ovechkin’s hot start after Friday’s game. “He’s only done it for 17 other years too. So maybe he had one down year out of 17 or whatever it is. So, no, there’s no surprise from us.”
With the Capitals looking to compete in what figures to be a very tough Metropolitan Division, and without Backstrom and Oshie, Ovechkin shouldered the load for Washington to open the 2021-22 season. And much like when he first came in the league in 2005-06, he will be asked to power the offense with some key players out in the early part of the campaign.
Author of a pair of Washington Capitals books, Transition Game and Red Rising, as well as a book on the American Hockey League, Chasing the Dream. Covered the Capitals and the NHL for the Washington Times, AOL Sports, Sporting News, SB Nation, Newsday, Tampa Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.