Alex Ovechkin’s Fast Start Keeps Him Moving Up Goal-Scoring Ladder

While Alex Ovechkin has been a streaky scorer throughout his NHL career, it’s become even more pronounced in the first couple of games of recent seasons.

With four goals in the Washington Capitals’ first three games, the Russian star is off to his best start to a campaign since 2018-19, when he also had four tallies in three contests. But it’s no fluke for Ovechkin’s hot start, as he has made a habit out of fast starts out of the gate in recent seasons.

Throughout his entire NHL career, Ovechkin never has been held goalless in his first five games of a season, and only twice has he had just a single goal in that first five-game span, the last one coming back in 2012-13. Since then, the lowest total he has scored to start a year was two, which he did last season, and that was a stretch broken by missing several games due to COVID-19 protocol. 

Besides last year, Ovechkin’s lowest total through five games in any year since 2012-13 is three, and the most being nine back in 2017-18 when he opened the season with a four-goal game and a hat trick to open the year that ended with him finally capturing the Stanley Cup, along with the Conn Smythe.

Alex Ovechkin Stanley Cup Capitol
Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin holds up the Stanley Cup at the National Mall in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Since the 2013 lockout, Ovechkin averages nearly four goals a game in his first five games of a season, not including this year’s total which already has reached four.

Ovechkin also has scored his four goals in four different ways so far this year: notching his first short-handed goal since Jan. 3, 2009, and adding a power-play goal in the season-opening win against the New York Rangers, an even-strength goal in a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning – along with nearly having another with a shot-stopping just an inch short from completely crossing the goal line – and then adding an empty-netter in a win over the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday.

Ovechkin is Moving Up the NHL’s List

In the process with his season just over a week old, Ovechkin has passed Marcel Dionne for fifth place on the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring list, and his 734 goals leave him just seven shy of Brett Hull for fourth place in NHL history, which at his current career pace of .61 goals-per-game, would have him passing the Golden Brett by the end of November. Also within range this season is Jaromir Jagr’s third-place total of 766, which would come just after the Olympic break if he maintains his career pace.

All this coming in a season that Ovechkin didn’t look like he’d be able to start on time due to an injury sustained in Washington’s preseason finale against the Philadelphia Flyers last Saturday.

Alex Ovechkin scoring his 700th goal
Ovechkin now stands fifth overall on the NHL’s goal-scoring list. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“I just enjoy my time,” Ovechkin said after the team’s opener. “Of course, it’s a huge privilege being on that [goal-scoring] list, but how I always say, game by game, day by day.”

“I’ve only been here a short time, and it seems like every night we’re acknowledging him for something, he’s passing somebody or he’s doing something special,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette added.

Overall, Ovechkin and the Capitals came into the year with lower expectations on them, with few forecasting Washington to win another Metropolitan Division regular-season title, and some predicting they wouldn’t even qualify for the postseason – something the team has done all but one year since Ovechkin arrived in D.C.

But in a career where his goal production has far outclassed anyone in the post-2004 lockout era – he leads the second-most productive active player Sidney Crosby by nearly 250 goals – through 1,200 games of his NHL career, another career milestone he reached in this young season on Tuesday, fans have become used to the production not seen since the 1990s.

Chasing Gretzky

Ovechkin’s quietly fast start to this year – and even the team’s 2-0-1 record out of the gate against the defending Stanley Cup and Presidents’ Trophy champions – still is overshadowed even in his own career by the chase of Wayne Gretzky, which became even more unusual last Wednesday as the “Great One” was interviewed about his record and if Ovechkin could chase it down.

Wayne Gretzky #99 of the Edmonton Oilers
Wayne Gretzky is supportive of Alex Ovechkin passing his goal-scoring mark. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

“From my point of view, we talk about hockey players we always talk about what he was and what he brought to the team. My reputation was always, ‘He’s a passer, he’s a playmaker.’ So I don’t have the reputation of being the greatest goalscorer ever, which is fine by me,” Gretzky said on TNT before the game. 

“So that’s why I think if Alex can stay healthy, I think it’s great for the game if he breaks the record because he is the greatest goalscorer that we’ve ever seen – because it’s harder to score today than it was 30, 40, 50 years ago.” 

Ovechkin’s fourth game of the season comes Thursday at Prudential Center in New Jersey, where less than two years ago, he passed his last major goal-scoring milestone with 700 goals, and he’s scored 34 more in just 56 regular-season games since, a clip just slightly off his career pace despite his age, interruptions due to COVID, injuries and a compressed schedule last season.

While Ovechkin still has a ways to go before he can begin to really focus on Gretzky’s mark – even keeping at his brisk pace it would be sometime in the 2024-25 season – fast starts to the season always help in the long marathon towards trying to chase down the record.