After scoring consecutive hat tricks against the Detroit Red Wings and the Carolina Hurricanes, Alex Ovechkin became part of a larger national debate on if he could catch Wayne Gretzky’s seemingly impossible-to-catch goal record.
Gretzky scored over 50 goals in eight consecutive seasons to start his career, including an insane four-year stretch where he scored over 70 goals four times (92, 87, 73, and 71). Gretzky ended his 20-year NHL career with 894 career goals — 93 more than Gordie Howe in second place and 128 more than third place Jaromir Jagr.
The 33-year-old Ovechkin has 636 goals during his 13 seasons so far in the NHL. He needs only 258 more to tie The Great One. If Ovechkin continues at his career .61 goals per game pace, he would need to play in 423 more games (five-plus seasons) to catch Gretzky. With 29 goals in 35 games this season, Ovechkin is averaging .83 goals per game.
“Alex definitely is the guy who has a chance,” Gretzky said in a phone interview with the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson before Christmas. “It’s great for the game and it’s a great watch. If he’s close I’ll be the first guy to go there (to see it).”
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“To break that record you have to be on a good team with good players … so that fits with the ultimate opportunity,” Gretzky continued. “He’s got a couple of centremen there (Nick Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov) who find him on the power play where he sets up. He can play the whole two minutes and find open ice like Bossy did and like Brett (Hall) did. He can handle the whole power play because he’s on the point and he’s rarely carrying the puck in or hunting the puck in the corners behind the net.”
National conversation lately seems to have focused on Alex Ovechkin being the greatest goal-scorer of all time, regardless of if he reaches the record or not.
One way to compare legends from different eras is adjusted stats. Statisticians created the metrics so that there was an accounting for different schedule lengths, roster sizes, and scoring environments.
As of December 27, Ovechkin ranks fourth all-time in adjusted goals (756), just two behind Wayne Gretzky who sits third (758). Gordie Howe leads all players with 925 career adjusted goals.
The adjusted goal stat is based off an 82-game schedule with a maximum roster size of 18 skaters and league averages of six goals per game and 1.67 assists per goal.
“It’s hard to score now because the goalies are such good athletes,” Gretzky said. “I’m the first to acknowledge that but he keeps pecking away.”
Gretzky said part of Ovechkin’s magic is his durability — Russian machine never breaks — and his shot.
“He scores a lot of short side goals because he shoots it so hard, with the heavy shot,” Gretzky said. “He’s got the best release in hockey.”
Gretzky also believes Ovechkin, like a fine wine, is getting better with age.
“He keeps doing the remarkable, he keeps beating the odds. Washington won last year and people thought there might be a lull because he’s getting older and he won’t get 50 goals,” Gretzky said. “But he’s doing it. The win seems to have been a springboard to being better than he was last year.”
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