Except it happened Tuesday night. No. 798 hit 24 seconds into Tuesday’s 7-3 win at Chicago. Number 799 came again eight minutes later. And number 800 – think about that, 800! – It came after 6 minutes and 34 seconds in the third period, when Evgeny Kuznetsov screamed, and Ovechkin was ready to shoot. Once he did it, he did it 800 times.
So what awaits at Capital One Arena — maybe Thursday night against Dallas or Saturday night in Toronto or certainly Monday night against Detroit — will be Ovechkin’s 801st goal, tying Gordie Howe for second in his NHL career. That pre-Christmas stretch — which includes a quick trip to Ottawa, followed by a Dec. 23 home game against Winnipeg — could include No. 802, putting Ovechkin ahead of only Wayne Gretzky’s 894. The achievements are like stocking stuffers at this point.
Alex Ovechkin scores 800th NHL goal, one behind Gordie Howe
The fans at the United Center in Chicago instead chanted, “O-V! O-V! O-V!” It’s Ted Williams and Michael Jordan and any other historical figure you want to throw into the conversation. No one is inappropriate or out of place.
Some historical context: Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby entered the NHL after the 2005-06 lockout period. This does not mean that one is better than the other, because Crosby plays center and Ovechkin is a wing, and their jobs and responsibilities are different. Crosby also dealt with controversies that hampered his ability to play regularly. They have been with each other for ten and a half years. They are different players.
But Ovechkin’s 800th goal is a chance to throw his career over his peers. The result: nothing compares. Ovechkin has scored 800 goals in 1,305 games since his debut. That is certainly the most among its peers. But it’s worth noting that Crosby was second in that span. His total: 534 in 1,137 games.
Drink in those sums. Crosby, a soon-to-be Hall of Famer who won three Stanley Cups and two Hart Trophies as the league’s MVP, averaged .47 goals per game — plenty of good. Ovechkin’s pace in the same period – that is, playing in the same set of conditions under the same rules – is 61 goals per game.
Basically, if he goes two games in a row without scoring, it’s unusual. Yes, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and Taj Thompson will definitely finish with more goals this season than Ovechkin. But it’s an easy bet that none of these players will make it 18 seasons into their careers and score once every other night. Not close.
This has been noted before, but it’s worth bringing up again. Gretzky was phenomenal, and no one can take away what he accomplished in his two-decade career. But it’s important to note that his career in the NHL spanned from 1979-80 to 1998-99.
Included in that span: No season since World War II has had more goals allowed per game since 1981-82, when he averaged 3.95. That year, Gretzky had an unimaginable 92 goals and 212 points. Video game numbers.
The Capitals’ “Screaming Eagle” jersey returns to black for the Reverse Retro reboot
It was the style of the time. According to hockey-reference.com, Ovechkin’s rookie year, or 2005-06, averaged 2.92 goals per game, 2.77 the following year, 2.61 the following year. The bottom line: Goalies were bigger and better and it was harder to score. Anyway, Ovechkin scored. The worst years to score in the last 20 years were 2015-16 (2.51 goals/game) and 2014-15 (2.52 goals/game). Those are Ovechkin’s age 30 and 29 seasons. In Gretzky’s corresponding seasons, the league averaged 3.56 and 3.35 goals against. Scoring was very difficult under Ovechkin, and he scored anyway. Again and again.
It’s important to note that these goals are not just blank fillers. They are meaningful. These battered Capitals are off to a disastrous start. They have now won five in a row with Ovechkin as the engine. Games were considered in Ovechkin’s era. As he continues to score into his gray beard years, they may become a reality again.
The days ahead at Capital One Arena should be filled with excitement and anticipation. Ovechkin’s recent run – seven goals in the last four games – reminds us that anything is possible at any time. He scored early against Chicago. He scored again in the first period. And when he can smell, he delivers – the third goal, to reach 800, in the third session.
We are not done here. The next goal equalized for Howe. After that, only Gretzky remains. How to process it all? Alex Ovechkin has a flair for drama and fame. Every game is important.