Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick last night. Sure, it was a weird hat trick with two empty-netters, but it still counted. If anything, I think the flukiness of that hat trick underscores how Ovechkin’s age-34 season has gone so far and how he’s such a special player.
Prior to Saturday, Ovechkin had been scoring on 12.9 percent of his shots, a good clip, but notably below his 14.4 in the last prior seasons. With three goals on four shots on Saturday, Ovechkin is now at 14.8 percent on the season. That hot streak has put him back in the Rocket Richard race for most goals in the NHL.
This accomplishment is, at once, both unremarkable (“there goes Ovi again”) and stupefyingly special. No one at age 34 is supposed to be this productive. Then again, no one else is Ovi.
I assembled a list of active players who have been among league leaders in goals in any season since 2007-08, then I calculated their goals per game in each season. Ovechkin is the red line.
Ovechkin has had just three seasons of the last thirteen that we wouldn’t classify with the formal definition of “face-meltingly, buckwildly elite.” His scoring rate has been consistent in a way that is unprecedented in pro hockey.
Here’s a comparison I’ve found useful as I’ve tried to wrap my head around this. In Wayne Gretzky‘s age-30 to age-33 seasons, he scored 126 goals in 278 games. In Alex Ovechkin’s age-30 to age-33 seasons, he scored 183 goals in 324 games. That’s more goals, more games, more goals per game — and all in an era in which goals are much rarer. Plus a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophy in there as well.
Back in our current day, Ovechkin’s peers (and we should consider that term a mild insult to the man) have put up near-Ovi-tier goal numbers in short bursts, but none of them has anything like Ovechkin’s sustain.
Below is the same data as the line graph, but displayed numerically and with color-coding. This might be a better way to see each player’s peaks and valleys.
Tampa’s Steven Stamkos comes closest. He was very productive from 2009-10 to 2016-17, but he’s cooled off since he suffered injuries and passed age 26.
Other players sometimes considered in Ovechkin’s class — Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Laine — have neither hit Ovechkin’s peaks (0.79 goals per game in in 2007-08) nor had anything like his durability.
But right now, Boston’s David Pastrnak is above Ovechkin’s high-water mark in goals per game. With 24 goals in 26 games, 23-year-old Pastrnak is scoring at a dazzling rate that we haven’t seen in a very long time.
what's with the bernie sanders esque sort order on these league leaders pic.twitter.com/cMUZrmbDrn
— Good Tweet Pete 🌮 (@peterhassett) December 1, 2019
Pastrnak’s goal total is fueled first and foremost by his 22.9 percent shooting. If that held up for a whole season, it’d be higher than any NHL player who played 70-plus games in any season since 2016. That’s probably not going to happen, but Pastrnak still has an excellent shot-attempt rate (basically the same as Ovechkin during five-on-five), plus he’s a crucial component of Boston’s top-ranked power play, where he takes about a third of the unit’s shots, mostly from the Ovi Spot.
If Pastrnak can play a full season (which he’s done only once), he may bump Ovechkin, eleven years his elder, from the top of the goal lists.
And then, if he wants to, he can keep producing at that same level for another thirteen years while playing in 99 percent of games.
Then he can join Ovechkin in the conversation for the greatest goal scorer of all-time.
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