Alex Ovechkin chases Wayne Gretzky's scoring record

WASHINGTON – The Washington Capitals have a tradition of dressing rooms to honor player milestones, led by coach Peter Laviolette. When...


WASHINGTON – The Washington Capitals have a tradition of dressing rooms to honor player milestones, led by coach Peter Laviolette. When someone registers a notable assist or scores their first career goal, Laviolette announces it to the team and often hands out the puck to commemorate the moment.

With Alex Ovechkin, Laviolette struggles to follow.

“It’s at the point where I get a piece of paper after the game with a list of things he just did,” Laviolette said this month, as Ovechkin makes his way to the top of the record most expensive in hockey. “There was a game last week where we had five things and we threw one, just because of the weather. It’s incredible.”

Ovechkin, who turned 36 in September, not only dominated his coach’s post-game speeches, he caught the attention of the entire National Hockey League with a flurry of goals and assists to show that The tough and extremely talented left winger is still as good as he always has been, still the Big 8.

He scored 22 goals before the Christmas vacation, which started early when the NHL paused playback until next week because of the coronavirus.

Ovechkin is one goal behind league leader Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers, and his 25 assists put Ovechkin third in points behind Draisaitl and his Oilers teammate Connor McDavid, who each have 49. He is only the seventh player with 17 consecutive 20s. – scoring seasons, and is set to score 58 goals, which would be the second-highest in his remarkable 17-year career, and the third-highest for a player over 30.

And more recently, Laviolette honored Ovechkin for binding Dave Andreychuk for the most career power play goals, 274.

But there is a bigger list on which he rides. This year, Ovechkin passed Marcel Dionne and Brett Hull on the career goals list. With 752, Ovechkin is only 15 goals behind Jaromir Jagr’s overtaking for third place. From there, only Gordie Howe, with 801, and Wayne Gretzky’s 894 are ahead.

“It’s not even a question that I will get past me, and I think it’s great,” Gretzky said in a phone interview last week. “He’s on his way to reaching 40 or 50 goals this year, maybe more. There is no doubt that in the end he will break the record.

On the surface, Gretzky and Ovechkin couldn’t be more different. Gretzky was a slender vision on the ice, the greatest playmaker of all time with his blonde locks sticking out of his Jofa helmet, the winner of four Stanley Cups and nine Hart Trophies as MVP, all while racking up awards. incomprehensible point totals for teams in four NHL cities.

Ovechkin, with his shaggy, grizzled mane, jagged smile, boisterous persona, and linebacker frame (he weighs his entire weight at 6 to 3, 240 pounds) is a more direct force, including the bruises, style Power and sizzling shot helped him rack up three Hart Trophies and a Stanley Cup, all in a beloved city – and made him one of the most feared opponents in the game.

“He’s got an aura on the ice,” said TJ Oshie, Ovechkin’s teammate with the Capitals. “He’s like a shark over there.”

In this sense, Ovechkin and Gretzky are quite similar; each with a competitive drive and unmatched understanding of what it takes to get a puck past a goalie. Five years ago, the two went to have dinner at the Nobu in Malibu, with their wives, a hockey summit hosted by Sergey Kocharov, vice president of communications of the Capitals, who also worked with Gretzky when they were both. with the Phoenix Coyotes.

During the meal, Ovechkin sprinkled Gretzky with questions.

“What I found really cool is that he didn’t ask me about scoring goals – he doesn’t need to tell anyone about it,” he said. said Gretzky. “He wanted to know how to get his team across the finish line to win the Stanley Cup. It was refreshing.

The odd couple keep in touch, and Gretzky, like many hockey fans, regularly listens to Capitals games due to his appreciation for Ovechkin. If Ovechkin goes a few games without scoring, Gretzky sends text messages of support, reminding the solid Russian that the goals will come, and sometimes in clusters.

“I’m his biggest fan,” said Gretzky, whose 2,857 career points put him 936 ahead of Jagr in second place and 1490 ahead of Ovechkin.

But the career goalscoring record, like baseball’s home run record, is one of the most beloved and easily identifiable scorers in the sport. Gretzky’s mark of 894 was once considered insurmountable. But Ovechkin could go over 900.

When asked about it, Ovechkin generally says that “you never know” what will happen tomorrow. But this insatiable thirst to score has fueled him since his childhood. When he was 12 and playing in the Russian juniors of Dynamo Moscow, Ovechkin started the last game of this season with 53 goals.

“Before the game, my dad told me Pavel Bure held the record with 57 goals,” Ovechkin recalls, before putting on his famous smile. “I scored six goals and finished with 59. You never know.”

Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals nine times. Many of his counts came via his ballistic fire and punctual, but others by flicks, tap-ins, backhands, skillful stick maneuvers and even a crazy backhand, over his head, while slide on the back, against Gretzky’s Coyotes, followed by one of his exuberant and iconic celebrations.

“I’ve always enjoyed scoring goals,” said Ovechkin. “I remember when I was little I loved competing to see where you were in the standings, goals, assists, points, whatever.”

But setting him apart from all the other greats, Ovechkin is perhaps the most physical elite scorer the game has seen. He’s ready to check and be checked, like Howe and Brett Hull, but Ovechkin sometimes looks for him.

Among the top scorers since 2005-6, the year he broke into the league after being drafted No.1 in 2004 (what should have been his rookie season was called off by a lockout), Ovechkin has not only was he 200 more goals than Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Eric Staal and Evgeni Malkin, he has over 2,000 more career wins than any of them. (According to statistics from the NHL Network, Ovechkin recorded over 3,160 hits through November, and none of the others even had 1,000.)

He has 42 shots this season, as much as his rival scorers McDavid and Draisaitl combined.

Oshie recalled that he had already paid the price for a crushing failure by Ovechkin when Oshie was playing for the St. Louis Blues, likening it to being hit by a truck.

“There are a number of top scorers in the league,” he said. “None of them hit like Ovi. That’s what makes him so great. He’s a monster.

As a teammate, Oshie experiences Ovechkin’s physique in other ways. There is the pre-game chest bumps in the hallway, when the loud and gregarious winger prepares for the game. The most dangerous moments for his teammates come when one of them scores.

“He hugged me so hard once in his arms, I was like, ‘OK, I have to see the coach,’” Oshie said. “It’s like a 2 year old puppy who doesn’t know how big he is.”

Ovechkin no longer flies across the ice shaving defenders as often as before. Now he chooses his places. In a recent game against Chicago, the Capitals were lethargic until Ovechkin flattened Connor Murphy early in the second period, changing the momentum. During intermission, Laviolette informed the team that if their superstar could be this physical, everyone could do the same.

“It sounded like the old Ovi,” Laviolette said. “He always brings it when we need it.”

But Ovechkin also has a refined side. Gretzky compares him to former teammate Mark Messier and quarterback Tom Brady and tennis legend Roger Federer, veteran superstars who maintained their success into their 30s and beyond through diet regimens and training. up-to-date training, combined with relentless competition. to drive.

“I’ve never seen someone hungry for the puck,” said Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin’s longtime teammate, who assisted on 269 (35.8 percent) of his goals. . “It doesn’t matter if he gets it in his own zone, the neutral zone, anywhere. He said to himself: “I mark”, which is unique.

Ovechkin says he is “very lucky” to have played so long with Backstrom and other talented teammates, such as Evgeny Kuznetsov. Backstrom and Ovechkin have been together for 14 years – including 19 games for Dynamo Moscow in the 2012-13 NHL lockout – enough to know where the other will be almost all the time, on or off the ice.

“Well, if I don’t see it somewhere, I’ll hear it,” joked Backstrom, who also noted Ovechkin’s ability to be in the right place.

Watching Ovechkin find those places without the puck is a study in hockey geometry, reminiscent of Oshie shark imagery. His short, precise movements – side-to-side, front-to-back – just to find even an inch of extra space – can make all the difference to pulling off a lethal shot.

Brian MacLellan, Capitals general manager, says this year Ovechkin has elevated his already odd sense of the game and its evolution.

“He’s the smartest he’s ever been in the attacking zone,” MacLellan said. “It’s a smart game he’s playing. He’s gone from being power on goals to what he does now. “

Of Ovechkin’s 22 goals this year, only two have been scored by his signed receiving shot – a massive slapshot shot straight from a pass, usually from the left face-off circle to the goalkeeper’s right, a area on ice commonly known as Ovechkin. “Office.” Eleven came out of the wrist shots and four of the snapshots.

Sometimes, however, it’s less about math, tactics, and vision. If a young player were to ask Ovechkin for the secret formula for scoring goals in the hundreds, he’s unsurprisingly offering straightforward advice.

“Shoot the puck,” Ovechkin said with a smile.

As hard as you can?

“Yeah.”

Ovechkin has carved a Hall of Fame career doing this, making it difficult for goalies and a coach to try to keep track of it all, with no end in sight.

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