Your NHL goals leader through the first two games of the season?
Feels like old times, I guess: It’s Alex Ovechkin, with seven. In two games. The next-closest guys have four in two and three games, respectively.
By the time Ovechkin was done scoring for the night early in the second period on Saturday, a few teams still hadn’t even played a game. And he was three goals away from hitting double-digits on October 7.
Even for one of the greatest goal-scorers in the history of the sport, this is a vulgar display of power. Never before has he scored seven goals in two games. It’s likely he never will again. But the fact that he did it is almost — but not quite — less impressive than how he did it.
He not only shot the puck with lethal precision, he also shot it at a level we wouldn’t normally expect from anyone but Ovechkin himself. It’s no secret that Ovechkin scores his many, many career goals by shooting with lethal precision, but also by shooting constantly. In his 12 full seasons to date, he led the league in shots on goal 10 times. The two times he didn’t were 2011-12, one of his few non-50-goal seasons, and last year, when he was 31 years old.
Understandable, then, that some speculated as to whether he could simply continue shooting in such volume as he aged. Even two games in, Ovechkin has seemingly made it a point to do just that. He had six shots in the season opener against Ottawa. Then eight against Montreal on Saturday. And just as you’d say netting a hat trick or more isn’t a sustainable goal-scoring pace, nor is averaging seven shots on goal a night. But here’s the crazy part: Ovechkin has already averaged five-plus shots on goal per game five times in his career. And one of those was as recent as 2015-16.
The thing you have to say, then, is that if Ovechkin were to even come close to approaching that number again, all the rumors of his career starting to wind down will start to look quite wrong. True, in one of Ovechkin’s three seasons with a goal total in the 30s, he did average more than 4.6 shots per game — that number still led the league — but he also shot a career-low 8.7 percent. These things happen. But Ovechkin is now already more than 20 percent of the way to matching his goal total from last season, two games in. And if he keeps shooting at anything resembling this pace, he’s going to blow past that number once again, even when his shooting percentage inevitably tumbles from its current level of 50 percent.
Assuming Ovechkin goes the rest of the way shooting at both the volume and effectiveness of his career averages (4.93 per game and 12.3 percent), he’ll hit 13 goals by the end of October, a month in which the Caps will have only played 12 games. He would probably hit 20 goals by U.S. Thanksgiving. And the Caps would still only be less than a third of the way through the season.
This isn’t to say, “Ovechkin could score 60 this year.” That would be an incredible feat for anyone, let alone a 32-year-old, but it’s difficult to overstate how valuable scoring seven goals in two games actually is when making yet another assault on the half-century mark.
But the fact that Ovechkin is 32 is what’s (potentially) amazing here. Only 10 other players since the NHL started tracking shots on goal have put up 350 shots after they turned 30, and all but Brent Burns and Ray Bourque (who did it twice) cleared 40 goals in the process. And again, Ovechkin is more than a sixth of the way there two games into the season. It would take an incredible cold stretch at some point this season to prevent him from hitting that number again.
However, if Ovechkin were to continue at his career pace — not easy, especially since his ice time took a big step back last season and one imagines his body can’t handle 20-plus minutes a night for the full 82 — he’ll be one of only three 30-plus shooters to clear 400 shots.
Both the guys who did it before him (Bobby Hull and Phil Esposito) vaulted past 50 goals. To say the NHL was a little different in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when both those guys did it, is an understatement. The league had only recently grown past six teams and the expansion teams were, by and large, horrible. And both those guys were two years younger than Ovechkin is now when they achieved the task. That difference is not something you can gloss over.
What you have to understand is how rare 400-shot seasons really are. It’s only happened 13 times in NHL history and Ovechkin was responsible for three of them. Esposito did it five times. No one else came in with more than one.
In theory, we’re at the precipice of history; no player in anything resembling modern hockey has ever opened the season with two hat tricks in a row, and that increases the odds that Ovechkin clears 400 shots and 50 goals. He’d be the first player to do that after his 31st birthday, in an era when almost every team is at least a little bit good.
With all that said, you don’t want to draw too many conclusions on Oct. 9 about how the rest of the season goes. Ovechkin could separate his shoulder or blow out a knee tomorrow. People also seem to be suggesting this is kind of an F-U season for Ovechkin because people started doubting whether he could still score 50 like clockwork, and perhaps because the NHL isn’t letting him go to the Olympics. One wonders if he can keep up the “I’ll show you” attitude for more than the first few weeks of the season. Maybe he picks it up again in February when the Olympics actually start, but still, it ain’t easy to make this climb.
However, you have to say that if anyone has earned the benefit of the doubt on bouncing back from an uncharacteristically bad season — “only” 313 shots and 33 goals — it has to be Ovechkin.
What We Learned
Buffalo Sabres: Not the best stretch on the power play. The Sabres have already given up three shorthanded goals. But here’s something for ya: They’ve also scored two. Their PK and that of their two opponents are outscoring their power plays. Weird.
St. Louis Blues: Scottie Upshall coming right into the lineup probably doesn’t speak too highly of the quality of that lineup.
Tampa Bay Lightning: JT Brown rules.
Toronto Maple Leafs: But enough about Pension Plan Puppets. (This is a great joke.)
Vegas Golden Knights: First round pick and a B-plus prospect for Neal at the deadline. Book it.
Play of the weekend
What a stop from Jonathan Bernier. Good lord.
Gold Star Award
I think this Ovechkin kid has a future in the sport.
Minus of the Weekend
Not that it’s entirely his fault but Steve Mason has an .831 save percentage in two starts for the Jets. Sub-optimal.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year
User “Habaholicgolfer” is crazy for this one.
– 2018 1st
– Shaw ($1M retained for the next 2 years)
What the heckroonie is this, Mrs. Glick?
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)