Except it happened Tuesday night. The number 798 came 24 seconds after Tuesday’s 7-3 win at Chicago. No. 799 rebounded eight minutes later. And No. 800 – think about it, 800! – came 6 minutes and 34 seconds into the third period, with Evgeny Kuznetsov buzzing and Ovechkin ready to pounce. If he did it once, he did it 800 times.
So what awaits at Capital One Arena – maybe Thursday night against Dallas, or Saturday night against Toronto, or certainly Monday night against Detroit – would be Ovechkin’s 801st goal, which would tie Gordie Howe for second most in a career. in the NHL. That pre-Christmas streak — which includes a quick trip to Ottawa and then a Dec. 23 home game against Winnipeg — may well include the number 802, which would leave Ovechkin with only Wayne Gretzky’s 894 ahead of him. Accomplishments are like Christmas stockings at this point.
Alex Ovechkin scores his 800th NHL goal, one behind Gordie Howe
It says a lot about that moment and that accomplishment that fans at the United Center in Chicago, rather than spoiling the moment, chanted, “O-vi! O-vi! O-vi!” He’s Ted Williams and Michael Jordan and any historical figure you want to insert into the conversation. There’s no one inappropriate or out of place.
A bit of historical background: Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby entered the NHL in the post-lockout season of 2005-06. That’s not to say one is better than the other, as Crosby plays center and Ovechkin is a winger, and their duties and responsibilities are different. Additionally, Crosby suffered concussions which hampered his ability to play consistently. They have stood against each other for about fifteen years. They are different players.
But Ovechkin’s 800th goal is an opportunity to launch his career against his peers. And the result is: There are no comparables. In 1,305 games since his debut, Ovechkin has scored those 800 goals. It is, of course, the most among its peers. But it is instructive to know that Crosby is second during this period. His totals: 534 in 1,137 games.
Drink in these totals. Crosby, an instant Hall of Famer who won three Stanley Cups and two Hart Trophies as the league’s most valuable player, scored 0.47 goals per game – a fair abundance. Ovechkin’s pace over the same period – that is, playing by the same set of rules under the same set of circumstances – is 0.61 goals per game.
Basically, if he plays two games in a row without scoring a goal, it’s an anomaly. Yes, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl and Tage Thompson will almost certainly finish with more goals than Ovechkin this season. But it’s a safe bet that none of these players will have 18 seasons in their career and score once every two nights. Not close.
This has already been noted, but it bears repeating now. Gretzky was a marvel, and there’s nothing wrong with what he achieved in a career that spanned two decades. But it’s important to note that his career spanned from 1979-80 to 1998-99 in the NHL.
Included in this period: Since the Second World War, no season has resulted in more goals against per game than in 1981-82, when the average was 3.95. That year, Gretzky had an inconceivable total of 92 goals and 212 points. Video game numbers.
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It was the style at the time. According to hockey-reference.com, Ovechkin’s rookie year or 2005-06 netted 2.92 goals per game, the following year 2.77, the following year 2.61. The point: The goalkeepers were bigger and better, and it was harder to score. Ovechkin still scored. Over the past 20 years, the hardest years to score were 2015-16 (2.51 goals/game) and 2014-15 (2.52 goals/game). These are Ovechkin’s 30 and 29 seasons, respectively. In Gretzky’s corresponding seasons, the league averaged 3.56 and 3.35 goals against, respectively. It was much harder to score in Ovechkin’s time, and he still scored. Again and again.
It’s also important to note that these goals aren’t just empty fillers. They are meaningful. These injury-riddled Capitals got off to a bad start. They have now, with Ovechkin as their driving force, won five in a row. The playoffs were an assumption in the Ovechkin era. They could become a reality again as he continues to score in his gray beard years.
Upcoming dates at Capital One Arena should be filled with joy and anticipation. Ovechkin’s recent streak — seven goals in the last four games — reminds us that anything is possible, anytime. He scored early against Chicago. He scored again in the first half. And when he can feel it, he delivers – the third base, to reach 800, in the third period.
We are not done here. His next goal ties Howe. The goal after that leaves only Gretzky. How to treat everything? Alex Ovechkin has a sense of the dramatic and the legendary. Every game counts.
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