Only that it happened on Tuesday night. No. 798 came on 24 seconds after Tuesday’s 7-3 victory in Chicago. Number 799 got a rebound eight minutes later. And the number 800 – think about it, 800! — came 6:34 into the third period, with Evgeny Kuznetsov buzzing and Ovechkin ready to pounce. He did it once, he did it 800 times.
So what awaits at Capital One Arena — perhaps Thursday night against Dallas, or Saturday night against Toronto, or certainly by Monday night against Detroit — would be Ovechkin’s 801st goal, which would tie Gordie Howe for second most in an NHL career . That pre-Christmas stretch — which includes a quick trip to Ottawa, then a Dec. 23 home game against Winnipeg — could very well include #802, which would leave Ovechkin with only Wayne Gretzky’s #894 ahead of him. The results are like stocking stuffers at this point.
Alex Ovechkin scores 800th NHL goal, one behind Gordie Howe
It says something about this moment and this accomplishment that the fans at the United Center in Chicago, rather than spoil the moment, chanted: “O-vi! O-vi! O-vi! It’s Ted Williams and Michael Jordan and whatever historical figures you want to throw into the conversation. There is no one who is inappropriate or out of place.
Some historical background: Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby entered the NHL in the post-lockout season of 2005-06. This is not to say that one is better than the other, because Crosby plays in the center and Ovechkin is a winger, and their duties and responsibilities are different. Additionally, Crosby has been dealing with concussions that hampered his ability to play regularly. They were held against each other for a decade and a half. They are different players.
But Ovechkin’s 800th goal is a chance to launch his career against his peers. And the result is: there are no comparisons. In 1,305 matches since his debut, Ovechkin has scored those 800 goals. This, of course, is the maximum among his peers. But it is instructive to know that Crosby is second in that period. His totals: 534 in 1,137 games.
Drink in those totals. Crosby, an instant Hall of Famer who won three Stanley Cups and two Hart Trophies as the league MVP, was scoring 0.47 goals per game—a fair amount. Ovechkin’s pace over the same period, i.e. playing by the same rules under the same circumstances, is 0.61 goals per game.
Basically, if he plays two games in a row without scoring a goal, that’s an anomaly. Yes, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl and Tage Thompson will almost certainly end up with more goals than Ovechkin this season. But it’s an easy bet that none of those players will have 18 seasons in their career and score once every other night out. Not close.
This has been noted before, but bears repeating now. Gretzky was a marvel, and there’s no detracting from what he accomplished 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 that period: Since World War II, no season has resulted in more goals allowed per game than 1981-82, when the average was 3.95. That year, Gretzky had an inconceivable 92 goals and 212 points. Video game numbers.
The Capitals “screaming eagle” jersey is back in black for the Reverse Retro reboot
That was the style at the time. According to hockey-reference.com, Ovechkin’s rookie year or 2005-06 produced 2.92 goals per game, the next year 2.77, the next year 2.61. The point: the goalkeepers were bigger and better, and it was more difficult to score. Ovechkin scored anyway. Over the past 20 years, the years where it was hardest to score were 2015-16 (2.51 goals/game) and 2014-15 (2.52 goals/game). Those 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 more difficult to score in Ovechkin’s era, and he still scored. Again and again and again.
It’s also important to note that these lenses aren’t just empty filler. They are significant. These injury-riddled Capitals got off to a painful start. Now, with Ovechkin as the engine, they’ve won five in a row. The playoffs were a prerequisite in the Ovechkin era. They could be a reality again, as he continues to mark in his graybeard years.
The upcoming dates at the Capital One Arena should be filled with joy and anticipation. Ovechkin’s recent run – seven goals in his last four games – is a reminder that anything is possible, anytime. He scored early against Chicago. He scored again in the first period. And when he smells it, he scores: the third goal, reaching 800, in the third period.
We are not finished here. His next goal ties Howe. The goal after that leaves Gretzky alone. How to process it all? Alex Ovechkin has a sense of the dramatic and legendary. Every match is important.