Alex Ovechkin’s long, painful scoring drought, an excruciating three games without putting a puck in the net, stretched into the Capitals’ visit Saturday night to Arizona. Ovechkin stood a lowly, humbled stick carrier, with merely a career total of 698 goals.
So, please, let’s have a prayer this morning for brother Alex. Especially you goalies with bruised hands, dented masks, and shattered egos, send those good No. 8 vibes high to the hockey heavens.
Ovechkin, of course, has been an offensive powerhouse since entering the NHL with the Capitals in the fall of 2005, scoring 52 goals his rookie season. Upon being blanked Thursday night in Colorado, he also had 1,140 regular-season games on his résumé, adding up to an astounding scoring rate of .612 goals per game.
In the World of Ovechkin, that three-game dip meant he left nearly two goals on the table. Oh, the waste, the humanity.
It’s easy to get lost in the numerical weeds when comparing Ovechkin with the list of seven mere mortals above him on the NHL goal-scoring list as the weekend began. But none of them, including all-time leader Wayne Gretzky (894), scored at a .612 clip for the duration of their careers.
Gretzky was close at .601 per game, followed by Brett Hull (741) at .584. The remaining five, Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717), and Mike Gartner (708), all fell in a goal-per-game range of .442 to .559.
Advancing age and length of career drive down a player’s scoring rate, obviously. But Ovechkin is a marvel in that sense, too, considering he turned 34 before this season began and now has reached the 40-goal plateau for an 11th time. Of the seven guys he is chasing in the record book, only Howe (once) and Esposito (once) reached 40 goals in a full season at age 34 or older.
Gretzky, who potted a career-high 92 goals in 1981-82, never scored more than 25 in a season during his mid-30s and called it quits at age 38, after scoring nine times with the Rangers in 1998-99.
Will we ever see Ovechkin’s likes again, someone who’ll break the 700-goal vulcanized ceiling and dream of chasing Gretzky’s 894?
The guess here is no, unless the NHL’s Lords of the Boards one day relax the rule book and find ways to breathe more offense into the game.
Adding to Ovechkin’s profile as the game’s most dynamic marksman is that all of his goals came in the small-net era — as defined by humongous and overequipped goalies, and rosters stacked with an increasing amount of proficient skaters. He earned those 698 the hard way.
Scoring across the league has improved slightly the last 2-3 years, but the goalies still hold far too much of an advantage for me to think anyone ever again will roll up Ovechkin-like numbers.
Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, who just turned 30, entered the weekend with 419 goals, ranked No. 6 on the goal list among active players. Great player, but not likely he has another 300 in him.
There’s an impressive bunch of much younger guys, including 23-year-old David Pastrnak, who’ve shown they can bring the heat. Others include Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine (21), Toronto’s Auston Matthews (22), and maybe Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov leads that brat pack with 215 goals, but although only 26, his age at this point does not play in his favor.
Realistically, right now it may be only Pastrnak, Laine, and Matthews who’ll even have a chance.
“Oh, man, I’m in the same era,” said Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, noting the resistance Ovechkin has overcome to pile up goals. “So he’s been all the more impressive in that sense. You never want to say never, right? Someone at some point is probably going to come in and tear it up like he does, but there won’t be many of them. I don’t see that happening.”
How about Pastrnak, Bergeron’s right winger? He entered the weekend with 41 goals, tops in the league, and a career total of 173 — a scoring clip of .458.
“He’s got that talent, for sure,” said Bergeron. “You don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him, obviously, because that would be unfair. It’s possible, but it’s just that Ovie has been so consistent . . . 40 again this year, and a chance to get to 50 again. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been really impressed with his consistency.”
Had Ilya Kovalchuk not zipped back to Russia for 5½ seasons, playing in the KHL from age 30-35, he would have far more than his current haul of 442 goals in 914 games His .484 goal-per-game rate is within a smidge of the .494 of Gartner, who finished with 708 goals in 1,432 games.
“Why not?” said Kovalchuk, pondering whether anyone ever will reach 700 again. “You’ve got new guys coming every year, with a lot of skill — the Matthews kid in Toronto, he’s scoring goals consistently. Like Pastrnak . . . Laine, too . . . the new guys are coming, and you never know, with the game going toward offense now — it’s more penalties, more 3-on-3 overtime. That’s when the skilled guys get their chance. I hope it will be more guys scoring 700, 800 goals.”
Coach Bruce Cassidy, his Bruins offense led by the line of Brad Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak, likes his right winger’s chances to join the 700 club.
“I’m going to say Pasta, right?” he said. “Because I love the kid, and he’s young and he’s scoring, right? It’s always about health and are you surrounded by good players to help you. I mean, if you are the only guy out there on your team, I think it would be hard every night, for 82 games, to push that. So, yeah, I think Pasta’s one of those guys.”
For all but his first two seasons in Washington, Ovechkin usually has had sublime Swedish center Nicklas Backstrom dishing him the puck. Entering the weekend, Backstrom had 918 points, with 259 of those assists on Ovechkin goals.
“In terms of the younger guys,” mused Cassidy, “Laine could be that guy because he’s got such a terrific shot and guys tend not to lose that. He’s always going to be on the power play, and that’s helped Ovie obviously, to retain his marks on the power play . . . I think it does take a certain shot-first mentality if you are going to challenge for that many.
“There are guys out there, for sure, but it might be too early to predict for some of those younger guys.”
HELP HAS ARRIVED
Leafs finally called for backup
The Maple Leafs continue to cling to the No. 3 spot in the Atlantic Division and entered the weekend with a two-point lead over the Panthers. If they lose their grip on that spot, they could fall directly to playoff DNQ territory, bumped out by the wild-card likes of Columbus or Philadelphia.
Toronto’s hopes were lifted with news late in the week that No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen was good to go again after being sidelined Feb. 3 by a neck injury. Two days later, general manager Kyle Dubas finally picked up a much-needed backup, Jack Campbell, in a swap with the Kings that also added some needed heft to the Leafs’ forward group in the form of left winger Kyle Clifford.
Backup goalie and grit up front were two spots Dubas did not address in the offseason. He took far too long to patch the tire, which will haunt his front office for months if the Leafs indeed end up below the cut line.
Meanwhile, Campbell went an impressive 2-0-1 in his starts vs. Anaheim, Montreal, and Arizona. The top goalie chosen in the 2010 draft (Dallas, No. 11 overall), the American-born Campbell (Port Huron, Mich.), was projected as the kid who one day could take over the Stars’ net from Marty Turco and Kari Lehtonen.
Indeed, Turco was finished in Dallas after 2009-10 and Lehtonen remained the Big D workhorse for the next eight seasons. Campbell played all of one game in the Dallas net before the Stars dished him to Los Angeles in 2016 for Nick Ebert, now a 25-year-old defenseman at AHL Hartford who has yet to play an NHL game. Example No. 1,089,786 of a first-round pick that went for naught.
The Stars, who’ll visit the Garden Feb. 27, feel secure in net these days with their Ben Bishop-Anton Khudobin tandem.
From the day he was drafted in 2010 up to his recent trade to the Leafs, a little less than 10 years later, Campbell was one of 15 goalies to play for Dallas over that span — a list that includes ex-Bruins Andrew Raycroft and Tim Thomas.
The list, chronologically, including games played for the Stars: Lehtonen (445); Richard Bachman (32); Raycroft (29); Cristopher Nilstorp (6); Dan Ellis (15); Thomas (8); Campbell (1); Jhonas Enroth (13); Anders Lindback (10); Jussi Rynnas (2); Antti Niemi (85); Bishop (137); Mike McKenna (2); Landon Bow (2); Khudobin (64).
By comparison, the Bruins, with Tuukka Rask their No. 1 for the majority of that stretch, have used a total of 10 goaltenders — a group that includes Thomas, Raycroft, and Turco.
Will Olympics be on schedule?
The NHLPA and its rank and file were encouraged early this past week, following a meeting of all concerned parties in New York, that NHL players might return to the Olympics for 2022 in Beijing.
But by week’s end, deputy commissioner Bill Daly made clear it remained a distant priority from a team ownership perspective and nothing was imminent in terms of striking a deal with the International Olympic Committee. It’s possible the league wants to use it as leverage to wring concessions from the players as talks continue on a CBA extension.
NHL involvement has its impediments, for sure, but the Games are better with NHL players involved. Also, provided the partnership is right on the marketing side, the worldwide exposure for the league is invaluable.
“The Olympics should be about the best athletes in any sport,” said Patrice Bergeron, a two-time gold medalist with Team Canada. “So that’s true for hockey, and a lot of those players are in this league.”
Whatever the hardships from a player’s perspective, noted Bergeron, they’re worth overcoming.
“We’ve done it many times and guys have liked it,” he said. “Yeah, the schedule is crunched. But there’s a lot of players who aren’t there and they get a break. I’d vote for it, for sure. I still think it would be the right thing to do. A lot of people watch the Olympics. A lot of people have told me, ‘I wasn’t watching hockey before the Sochi Games, and I watched and it was amazing hockey.’ The same if they watched Vancouver. I think it is good for the game, that it grows the game and it helps.”
Two years from now, would a 36-year-old Bergeron want to wear the Canadian red and white?
“If called upon,” he said, “for sure.”
Bertagna won’t be slowing down
Former Harvard goalie Joe Bertagna, long ago the Bruins’ goaltending coach, formally wraps up his duties as commissioner of Hockey East at the end of June.
Bertagna, Crimson class of 1973, will have served 23 years as the commish, following 15 seasons in mostly a similar capacity with ECAC hockey. Not a good day for the college game when a guy with his kind of institutional knowledge, expertise, and passion for the sport moves to the sideline.
“I hope no one is under the belief I’m retiring,” said Bertagna, who’ll drop the puck for the Hockey East championships at the Garden March 20-21. “I love hockey, obviously, something I’ve been involved in now across seven decades, including my [Arlington] high school years, and I’m eager to stay engaged in the game.”
Some of the projects Bertagna plans going forward include his administrative duties with the American Hockey Coaches’ Association, working with Top Gun Hockey out of Salem, N.H., and consulting for the Friendship Four college tourney in Belfast, which this year (Nov. 27-28) will include Quinnipiac, Army, Mercyhurst, and Sacred Heart.
Hockey East, which announced last summer that Bertagna’s contract would not be extended beyond this season, has yet to name a successor.
“Writing, teaching, consulting, administrating,” said Bertagna, focusing on his days ahead. “What I hope to do is a blend of all that. I think the only thing we’ve safely ruled out at this point is male model.”
Count Bruin Jaroslav Halak among the many goalies impressed by Alex Ovechkin’s body of work. Halak got to see Ovechkin day to day in practice for a few weeks when he was dealt from St. Louis to the Capitals at the spring 2014 trade deadline. “Ovie has everything, fast release to shoot it hard,” Halak said. “Everyone knows he is going to be at that spot on the power play, but he still gets it off his stick quickly and scores a lot from that spot. Obviously, one of the best, and it’s been a privilege to play against him.” In his first days as Ovechkin’s teammate, recalled Halak, then 28 years old, he noticed that Ovechkin wasn’t shooting hard in practice. “I asked him if everything’s fine,” said Halak. “He just told me he doesn’t want to hurt the goalies, so he doesn’t shoot hard in practice. I remember asking if he could shoot on me, hard, and he did, and the first few went in. It was fun to see him in games and practices. That shot is amazing.” . . . The surprise in St. Paul on Friday wasn’t necessarily that Bruce Boudreau became the NHL’s eighth coaching casualty of the season (tying a league high), but that he was still there to be fired. Word late last season was that then-GM Paul Fenton planned to can him, but ownership blocked it, then soon fired Fenton in August. Now Fenton and Boudreau are both gone, Dean Evason is the interim coach, and GM Bill Guerin has at least a couple of months (if desired) to comb over candidates, including former Golden Knights boss Gerard Gallant . . . Solid signing by the Bruins on Friday, extending defenseman Jeremy Lauzon for two years at an annual cap hit of $850,000. Both parents are doctors in Val d’Or, Quebec, his mother a gynecologist and father a pulmonologist. Younger brother Zachary, 21, recently hung up his skates, the result of suffering a concussion midway through his 2017-18 junior season with Rouyn-Noranda. Also a defenseman, Zachary was a Pittsburgh draft pick (No. 51 overall) in 2017. “He’s all done,” said Jeremy. “It was rough making that decision, but now he feels really good. He struggled for, like, two years and he decided in September he was finished. He was supposed to go to Pittsburgh’s rookie camp, but right before he had a relapse and he said, ‘Nah, not worth it.’ Now he’s got a normal life — go to school (University of Montreal), enjoy it, and I think he’s happy now, that’s the important thing.”
The Bruins Sunday afternoon take on the Rangers in New York, where second-year coach David Quinn of late has fed more starts to rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin, who may have jumped the line ahead of Alexandar Georgiev as Henrik Lundqvist’s heir apparent. Shesterkin stood 6-1-0 with a .941 save percentage as the weekend approached. Small sample size, but highly promising numbers. King Henrik, a disappointing 10-11-3 after his 18-23-10 last season, has one year left at an $8.5 million cap hit. All of which positions him as a prime buyout candidate for June.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.