February 24, 2024

Alex Ovechkin’s surge has him 60 goals away from NHL record

Fresh off a family trip to Dubai during the Washington Capitals‘ bye week and the All-Star break, Alex Ovechkin has scored in all four games to extend his streak to five, his longest in nearly three years.

And after just eight goals through his first 43 games, the Russian superstar, captain and face of the franchise again has his sights set on Wayne Gretzky’s career record that long seemed unapproachable.

Ovechkin now has 13 goals this season to give him 835 — 60 back of passing Gretzky.

“Certainly not surprised by it,” said Vancouver Canucks defenseman Ian Cole, whose club defeated the Capitals 3-2 in overtime on Sunday. “He is the gold standard for goal scoring in NHL history, in my mind. Obviously Wayne Gretzky, he’s the ‘Great One,’ he’s the best, but what Ovi’s done in the time period that he’s played is absolutely remarkable.

“His ability to continue to be a force in this league in more than one sense, but certainly the goal-scoring one, is amazing. His longevity, it’s incredible.”

On Saturday, Ovechkin set the table for the Gretzky Watch, popping in an empty-net goal in a 3-0 win over the Boston Bruins. It was the 57th empty-netter of his career, breaking a tie with Gretzky for the most in NHL history.

Now 38, Ovechkin is back to producing like in previous years. Last spring, he became the first player in NHL history to record 40 goals in a season 13 times, and he was scoring in his mid- and late-30s like no one since Phil Esposito in the 1970s.

“He’s playing at a real high level,” Washington coach Spencer Carbery said. “I feel like he’s even skating a little bit more. I feel like there’s a little bit more jump in his step.”

Some of that jump seemed to be lacking before the break. As other elite athletes have found out, time remains undefeated, and hockey players rarely age gracefully.

With production not easy to come by on the team as a whole, the Capitals averaged just 2.3 goals through 46 games — third lowest in the league. Since Ovechkin’s goal streak started, they’re scoring 3.6 a game.

“It’s a positive, positive step because we need him,” Carbery said. “These are positive things, and you can feel him gaining more confidence as each one goes in and as he gets on a little bit of a roll.”

After an attempted pass from Ovechkin to him ended in a goal Sunday, longtime teammate T.J. Oshie smiled and said, “It’s nice to see the big man rolling.” He then pointed out that this run isn’t about good fortune as much as Ovechkin playing a well-rounded style and reaping the benefits on the scoresheet.

“He’s also doing a lot of little things that I think are helping us out defensively that are leading to offense and odd-man rushes,” Oshie said. “He’s coming back in the D-zone and stopping in a good area. It just sets our team up for success when all five guys are doing that. It’s honestly the stuff he’s doing away from the puck that letting his natural, phenomenal ability take over and start putting some points on the board.”

Ovechkin, who last season passed Gordie Howe for second on the career NHL goals list, said “it’s a good thing” when he can put the puck in the net. That’s happening a lot, as this is his first five-game goal streak since March 2021.

“I try to do my job and just play the right style of game and be out there and help the team to win,” Ovechkin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.