As Alex Ovechkin reaches 800 goals, his excellence is unparalleled

How

This is perfect. So, so Ovi. Just two players in history had ever reached 800 goals. That Alex Ovechkin used a hat trick to get there? Chief’s kiss, please.

Of all the things we have learned about Alexander Ovechkin in the 18 years since he started scoring goals for the Washington Capitals, perhaps the foremost is this: He will choose the most dramatic way to reach whatever milestone lies ahead. He entered Tuesday night’s game at Chicago three goals short of 800. He faced the Blackhawks on the road, and then had three straight home games. Get your tickets. Eight hundred had to happen at the corner of 7th and F Streets.

Except it happened Tuesday night. No. 798 came 24 seconds into Tuesday’s 7-3 victory in Chicago. No. 799 came off a rebound eight minutes later. And No. 800 — think about that, 800! — came 6 minutes, 34 seconds into the third period, with Evgeny Kuznetsov buzzing about, and Ovechkin ready to pounce. If he’s done it once, he’s done it 800 times.

So what awaits at Capital One Arena — perhaps Thursday night against Dallas, or Saturday night against Toronto, or certainly by Monday night against Detroit — would be Ovechkin’s 801st goal, which would tie Gordie Howe for the second-most in an NHL career. That pre-Christmas stretch — which includes a quick trip to Ottawa, then a Dec. 23 home game against Winnipeg — could well include No. 802, which would leave Ovechkin with only Wayne Gretzky’s 894 ahead of him. The accomplishments are like stocking stuffers at this point.

Alex Ovechkin scores 800th NHL goal, stands one behind Gordie Howe

It says something about this moment and this accomplishment that the fans at United Center in Chicago, rather than ruing the moment, chanted, “O-vi! O-vi! O-vi!” He is Ted Williams and Michael Jordan and whatever historical character you want to insert into the conversation. There’s no one who’s inappropriate or out of place.

Some historical context: Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby entered the NHL in the post-lockout season of 2005-06. This is not to say one is better than the other, because Crosby plays center and Ovechkin is a winger, and their jobs and responsibilities are different. Plus, Crosby has dealt with concussions that have hindered his ability to play regularly. They have been held up against each other for a decade-and-a-half. They’re different players.

But Ovechkin’s 800th goal is an opportunity to cast his career against his peers. And the result is: There are no comparables. In 1,305 games since he debuted, Ovechkin has scored those 800 goals. That, of course, is the most among his peers. But it’s instructive to know that Crosby is second during that time. His totals: 534 in 1,137 games.

Drink in those totals. Crosby, an instant Hall of Famer who has won three Stanley Cups and two Hart Trophies as the league’s MVP, has scored .47 goals per game — a righteous plenty. Ovechkin’s pace over the same period — meaning, playing with the same set of rules in the same set of circumstances — is .61 goals a game.

Essentially, if he plays two games in a row without scoring a goal, it’s an anomaly. Yeah, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl and Tage Thompson almost certainly will finish with more goals than Ovechkin this season. But it’s an easy bet that none of those players will be 18 seasons into their careers and scoring once every two nights out. Not close.

This has been noted before, but it’s worth re-upping now. Gretzky was a marvel, and there’s no taking away from what he accomplished over a career that spanned two decades. But it’s important to note that career stretched from 1979-80 to 1998-99 in the NHL.

Included in that span: Since World War II, no season has resulted in more goals allowed per game than 1981-82, when the average was 3.95. That year, Gretzky had an inconceivable 92 goals and 212 points. Video game numbers.

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That was the style at the time. According to hockey-reference.com, Ovechkin’s rookie year or 2005-06 yielded 2.92 goals per game, the next year 2.77, the next year 2.61. The point: Goalies were bigger and better, and it was harder to score. Ovechkin scored anyway. In the past 20 years, the years in which it was hardest to score were 2015-16 (2.51 goals/game) and 2014-15 (2.52 goals/game). Those are Ovechkin’s ages 30 and 29 seasons, respectively. In Gretzky’s corresponding seasons, the league averaged 3.56 and 3.35 goals against, respectively. He has been significantly harder to score in Ovechkin’s era, and he has scored anyway. Over and over and over again.

It’s important to note, too, these goals aren’t just empty filler. They’re meaningful. These injury-riddled Capitals got off to a woeful start. They now, with Ovechkin as an engine, have won five in a row. The playoffs have been an assumption in the Ovechkin Era. They might be a reality again, as he keeps scoring into his graybeard years.

The upcoming dates at Capital One Arena should be filled with joy and anticipation. Ovechkin’s recent run — seven goals in the past 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 it, he delivers — the third goal, to reach 800, in the third period.

We’re not done here. His next goal ties Howe. The goal after that leaves only Gretzky. How to process it all? Alex Ovechkin has a sense for the dramatic and the legendary. Every game matters.

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