Years from now, some young hockey player with a great shot and the thirst to score goals is going to be compared to the great goal scorers in NHL history. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Brett Hull. One more player was added to that goal-scoring standard on Sunday night as Alex Ovechkin recorded his 500th career goal as a Washington Capital in their 7-1 win over the Ottawa Senators in front of a home crowd that was witness to history.
The goal came at the 16:19 mark of the second period on, what else, a power play and from, where else, the left wing faceoff circle. When Ovechkin took a feed from Jason Chimera and rifled it into the top of the net, number 500 was also a “first” in some respects. Ovechkin became the first Capital to score 500 goals with the franchise, and he became the first Russian to reach that milestone.
The game itself was an expression of utter dominance by a team that had played a game the day before. Justin Williams started the red light festival when he converted a superb no-look, through the legs feed from Andre Burakovsky to beat goalie Andrew Hammond from right wing faceoff dot to make it 1-0 just 8:07 into the game.
Less than three minutes later it was 2-0, courtesy of a T.J. Oshie power play goal, the end result of a sharp triangle passing play, Nicklas Backstrom on the right wing wall down to Evgeny Kuznetsov, and out to Oshie in the middle of the 1-3-1.
Ottawa got one back on a turnover by the Caps high in the offensive zone. Trying to work a high cycle, Williams and Karl Alzner got tangled up with the puck squirting away from them. Mike Hoffman jumped on the loose puck and headed down the left wing. With Williams trying to close the distance and take an angle to defend the rush, Hoffman ripped a shot high over goalie Philipp Grubauer’s right shoulder and under the crossbar to make it 2-1 at the 3:32 mark.
Any suspense the Hoffman goal might have provided was snuffed out in short order. Zach Sill scored his first goal as a Capital less than three minutes later. Skating down the left side, Sill threw the puck in front as he was circling into the corner. The puck popped into the air, and when Hammond failed to swat it away as it was falling to the ice, Sill circled out from behind the Senator net and batted it under the crossbar to make it 3-1.
Dmitry Orlov made it 4-1 less than two minutes later, finishing a game of keep-away conducted by the Caps in the Senators’ end. Working the puck in deep and below the Ottawa goal line, Nicklas Backstrom worked the puck back up the wall to Nate Schmidt at the right point. Schmidt fired the puck across to Orlov at the opposite point, and with the Senator defense still on the other side of the rink, Orlov had time to step up and fire a laser that beat Hammond cleanly to make it 4-1 just under eight minutes into the period.
Then came the moment everyone had been anticipating. Andre Burakovsky manned the spot usually occupied by Backstrom at the right wing wall. Working the puck slowly down the wall, he fed it to Jason Chimera at the goal line extended to Hammond’s left. Chimera threaded a pass through the slot that Erik Karlsson got his stick on, but not enough to keep the puck from Ovechkin’s reach. Ovechkin settled the puck, then snapped it hard at the Ottawa net. Hammond flung his glove up at the puck, but it was already past him and settling to the ice behind him, and the crowd erupted in what would be a three-minute break to celebrate the milestone.
The rest of the game was an obligatory running off of the clock, the competitive portion of the game having long passed and the historic moment having been witnessed. However, the Caps being the team they are these days, they tended to business and made things more difficult for the Senators in the third period. Tom Wilson scored an odd goal, taking a pass from Chimera and backhanding a shot from below the goal line off Hammond and into the net inside the near post.
Ovechkin got a start on his second 500 goals mid-way through the period when he authored a replay of the overtime game-winner he scored in New York on Saturday, skating down the left wing, powering past Erik Karlsson, and cutting to the middle where he snapped the puck through Hammond’s pads to make it 7-1. Goalie Philipp Grubauer took them home from there, and the Caps skated off with their most lopsided win of the season.
-- Alex Ovechkin became the 43rd player in NHL history to record 500 goals and fifth fastest to reach that milestone. In what might be a reflection of just how special Ovechkin’s achievement is in a low-scoring era, only two of those 43 players with 500 or more goals are active – Jaromir Jagr (736 going into Sunday’s games) and Jarome Iginla (601).
-- Since Ovechkin came into the league in 2005, the closest pursuer in the goal scoring rankings is Iginla, who has 351 goals. Since the 2001-2002 season, no player has more goals than Ovechkin. Ovechkin was 16 years old when the 2001-2002 season started, and he was playing his first season with Moscow Dynamo. It would be four more seasons before he entered the NHL.
-- The milestone goal was Ovechkin’s 185th career power play goal. Since he came into the league, no one is close to him in that category. Thomas Vanek is second with 122. His second goal of the game was his 312th even strength goal of his career. Since he came into the league, Iginla is second on the list (238).
-- Ovechkin was a plus-2 for the game. If anyone is keeping score, that’s plus-21 for the season, third best in the league.
-- If there was one thing missing on the milestone goal, it was that Nicklas Backstrom did not provide an assist. Never you mind, though. Backstrom still had three assists in this game. He is now tied for fifth in the league in helpers (28). And, in what might be a Backstromesque sort of testimony to how effective he can be while not bringing attention to himself on the ice, he recorded those three assists in a game in which he did not record a shot attempt.
-- Ovechkin took over the league lead in goals with the pair he had tonight (26). He became the fifth player to record 25 goals in each of his first 11 seasons in the league. Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr, and Bryan Trottier are the others.
-- Jason Chimera recorded his second three-assist game of the season. The other came in the Caps’ 7-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche on November 21st.
-- The six-goal margin of victory was the Caps’ largest since they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 7-0, on November 1, 2013.
-- Nate Schmidt recorded an assist on the Orlov goal, giving him points in four straight games, a career-best points streak.
-- Philipp Grubauer had a solid game in goal, stopping 32 of 33 shots. Over his last four games he is 3-1-0, 1.43, .954.
In the end…
When the bench emptied to celebrate Alex Ovechkin’s 500th goal (and credit the league with granting permission to do so), one had the feeling that if the fans could climb over the glass to join in, they would have. It was one of the few unalloyed moments of joy in the history of the franchise. Whatever else Ovechkin achieves in his career, he has been a trailblazer for this franchise and for his Russian countrymen.
But no accomplishment in a team sport belongs to the player alone. Hockey might be the best manifestation of this concept, a sport where it takes 20 guys a night to be successful. The Caps did score four goals before Ovechkin struck, and they got points from 12 players in addition to Ovechkin for the evening. They were solid in their own end and exerted oppressive aggression in the offensive zone. For a lot of his career, Ovechkin provided too many isolated highlights. On this night, as has been the case so often in what has been a special season so far, his highlight was as bright as any other he has had, but he is able to share that light with a lot of other players who are making their own contributions. It was a big night for the captain, and for the team as well.