This might be Alex Ovechkin’s most impressive goal scoring season yet


It is the middle of December and Alex Ovechkin is in a familiar spot at the top of the NHL’s goal scoring leaderboard.

After scoring in each of the Capitals’ past two games, he finds himself tied with Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot with 23 goals.

He is trying to win what would be his seventh goal scoring crown (something only Bobby Hull has done) and is on pace to top the 50-goal mark for the eighth time.

Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy (nine each) have more.

Even for Ovechkin, a player that has made a habit out of scoring 50 goals and winning goal scoring crowns, it is a standout performance for two big reasons.

The first being that he is rebounding from what was (by Ovechkin’s standards) a “down” year in 2016-17 when he finished with the second lowest goal output of his career (33) and the lowest even-strength goal performance (16). Remember the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons when his goal-scoring slumped to a more human level and everyone freaked out that he was done as an elite player or goal-scorer? Same thing kind of happened a season ago, even if to a lesser extent. He rebounded then, and he is rebounding now.

The second is that he is defying age and not only besting the rest of the league when it comes to scoring goals, but also father time.

So far this season Ovechkin has already topped his even-strength goal total from a season ago (17 as of Monday) and is on a pace to score 55 goals.

[Is Alex Ovechkin clutch?]

The second number is the big one because if he is able to maintain that pace (do you want to bet against him maintaining it? I don’t) it would be a pretty historic performance for no other reason than the fact almost nobody scores goals at this level at this age.

Ovechkin turned 32 years old just before the start of the 2017-18 season and is still the most dominant goal scorer in the league.

This is almost unheard of in an era of the NHL.

A few things to consider, just for historical context here

• Only four players in league history have scored at least 50 goals in a season in their age 32 season or older. John Bucyk (51) did it during the 1970-71 season at age 35. Bobby Hull (51) did it during the 1971-72 season at age 33. Phil Esposito (61)  did it during the 1974-75 season at age 32. Jaromir Jagr (54) did it during the 2005-06 season at age 33. That is it. Esposito is the only one to score at least 55.

• Going back to the start of the league (1917-18) the average age of the NHL’s goal-scoring leaders in each season is 26.1. That number lines up with when players typically hit their peak performance as goal scorers (usuallybetween the ages of 22 and 26). Ovechkin is currently on a pace to do it (or at least share it) at age 32.

• If he is able to win the goal-scoring crown this season he would be just the eighth player in league history to lead the league (or share the lead) in goal scoring at age 32 or older. Only one of them has done it in the post-Original Six era. The other six: Cy Denney did it at age 32 during the 1923-24 season. Bill Cook did it at ages 35 and 36 during the 1931-32 and 1932-33 seasons. Maurice Richard did it at ages 32 and 33 during the 1953-54 and 1954-55 seasons. Gordie Howe did it at age 34 during the 1962-63 season. Esposito did it during the 1974-75 season.

• Aside from potentially leading the league at an age when most players do not accomplish that, let’s also not lose sight of the fact he is currently on pace for the third best goal scoring season of his career. Let’s just, for comparisons sake, look at the top-10 goal scorers in league history and how old they were during the top-three goal-scoring seasons in their careers.

Wayne Gretzky: 21, 23, 24
Gordie Howe: 24, 23, 28
Jaromir Jagr: 23, 33, 28
Brett Hull: 26, 25, 27
Marcell Dione: 27, 29, 31
Phil Esposito: 28, 31, 29
Mike Gartner: 25, 31, 21
Mark Messier: 21, 22, 35
Steve Yzerman: 23, 24, 27
Mario Lemieux: 23, 22, 27

There are only five seasons out of that group where one of them was over the age of 30, and only two (Jaromir Jagr at 33 and Mark Messier at 35) where they were over the age of 32.

Obviously a lot of this for this season is based on projections.

He would not only have to remain healthy (something that has not been an issue for him in his career) but also maintain his current pace to make the history he is chasing here. Obviously we can not project injuries, but as long as he stays healthy this season there is no reason to believe that he can not maintain the pace he is currently on. His shots per game numbers have increased by more than a full shot per game versus a year ago. His shooting percentage has rebounded a little. He is scoring more regularly during even-strength play. Put it all together and you have one of the NHL’s all-time greatest goal-scorers putting together one of his most impressive seasons yet.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Should Canadiens let Carey Price play again this season?

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On Monday night, Carey Price made his return to the Canadiens lineup after he missed 13 games with a concussion. Price didn’t play in last night’s game against the Panthers, but the fact that he dressed as the backup means it’s just a matter of time before he ends up back between the pipes.

Under normal circumstances, this would be great news for the Habs, but most fans don’t want to see him suit up again this season. With nine games to go and the team way out of playoff contention, some don’t understand why Montreal would risk playing him in meaningless games.

It’s important to remember that Price has had his share on injuries over the last few seasons. Still, that won’t stop Claude Julien from using his franchise goaltender down the stretch.

“I don’t think that’s the right approach or the right example to set for players,” Julien said of shutting Price down for the season.

“He’s healthy, he wants to play. He’s not coming back at 90 percent, he’s 100 percent healthy right now. You can’t hold a player back, especially a player like Carey, and tell him you’ll miss the next 10 games. I don’t think that’s the right message to send.”

Shutting Price down for the rest of the season certainly makes sense in theory. His eight-year, $84 million extension kicks in at the start of next season and the Canadiens don’t have anything to gain by letting him play this year. On the flip side, it’s easy to understand why Price would want to play.

First, he’s a competitor. Most athletes would prefer to play if they’re fully healthy. They clearly don’t approach these situations the same way fans do. They’re professionals, they want to win and sitting on the sidelines as a precaution is unnatural to them.

Second, he may not want to go an entire offseason wondering how his head will respond to a live game. If he comes back, plays a couple of games, stays healthy and plays well, there will be nothing to wonder about over the summer months.

Third, like his team, he’s had a pretty bad year. He owns a 15-22-6 record with a 2.98 goals-against-average and a .904 save percentage. Some of that is on the play of the players in front of him, but don’t get it twisted, he’s been mediocre, too.

The Risk

So, we’ve gone through the reasons why he should play. Now, we’ll look at the obvious risk of allowing him to see game action.

Anytime any NHL player steps on the ice, there’s a risk that he could get injured. For Price, those concerns have to be magnified. The 30-year-old is just two years removed from a knee injury that cost him several months and he’s been sidelined on two different occasions this season (10 games for a lower-body injury, 13 games with a concussion).

If the Canadiens were in the chase for a playoff spot, there would be no argument here. Everyone would want him back as soon as possible. Unfortunately for Montreal, they’re 18 points behind New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot in the East. So in other words, it ain’t happening.

There are legitimate points on both sides of the argument. It’s easy to see why some people aren’t interested in having him play out the season. The reasons for him to get back in action are also simple.

In the end, none of this will matter…unless he gets hurt.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Who are NHL’s most unpredictable teams?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at

• Two Ontario minor hockey league teams paid tribute to goaltender Roy Pejcinovski who was murdered a few days ago. Both teams wore the letter “R” on their jerseys in the youngster’s honor. (Toronto Star)

• Larry Kwong, who was the first player of Asian descent to play in the NHL, passed away at the age of 94 on Monday. (CTV News)

•’s Travis Yost takes a deeper look at which teams have been truly unpredictable throughout this season. Believe it or not, three of the four teams at the top of the board in this category are in the playoffs. (

• The NWHL final is set. The third championship in league history will feature the Metropolitan Riveters and the defending champs, the Buffalo Beauts. (NWHL.Zone)

• The Golden Knights’ play has dipped over the last couple of weeks. Some of that might have to do with injuries, but it’s also possible that they were so far ahead of everyone else that they lost their focus. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Doug Weight decided to use John Tavares on the wing over the weekend, and the move may have rejuvenated his captain a little. (The Sports Daily)

• The St. Louis Blues have never won a Stanley Cup title in their history. A lot of that has to do with them not getting good luck at the right times. Whether it’s players succeeding elsewhere, trades and draft picks going wrong, or even facing quality opponents all the time, the Blues haven’t really had many breaks. (St. Louis Game Time)

Connor McDavid is putting together another terrific season, but the Oilers simply haven’t been good enough for him to earn serious Hart Trophy consideration. (Oilers Nation)

• The Montreal Canadiens aren’t going to make the playoffs, which has some people wondering if they should just opt to tank over the final few weeks of the season. (Montreal Gazette)

• Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis had nothing but good things to say about his former assistant coach, Phil Housley, who is now behind the Buffalo Sabres’ bench. “He was more of almost a friend than a coach. That goes a long way with the length of the season and every year, year in and year out.” (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Blue Jackets make it 8 in a row; Rinne continues Vezina push

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Players of the Night

Cam Atkinson and Thomas Vanek, Columbus Blue Jackets: The Columbus Blue Jackets are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now and extended their current winning streak to eight games in a row on Monday night with a thrilling come-from-behind win against the Boston Bruins, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime. It was Cam Atkinson that scored the winner in overtime to get them the win.

Meanwhile, Thomas Vanek had a big night for the Blue Jackets with a goal and an assist in the win.

Columbus is now just two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division and just four points back of the Washington Capitals for first place.

The Blue Jackets go for their ninth consecutive win on Tuesday night when they visit the New York Rangers.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: For the longest time it seemed like Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy was going to run away with the Vezina Trophy this season, but right now it is looking like it might be becoming Pekka Rinne’s to lose. He recorded his league-leading eighth shutout of the season on Monday night by stopping all 35 shots he faced in a 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres. He is now 40-9-4 on the season and has a .931 save percentage that is tops among all goalies that have appeared in at least 40 games.

He has been especially dominant since Jan. 1. Since the start of the new calendar year Rinne is 21-2-1 with a .939 save percentage that is also tops in the league. During that stretch only two goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games since then have a save percentage higher than .930.

Ryan Donato, Boston Bruins: His team ended up losing in overtime, but we have to give him some credit for scoring a goal in his NHL debut and adding two more assists. He also finished with six shots on goal, the second highest total in the game behind only the eight that his teammate, Brad Marchand, recorded. You can watch his first goal here.

Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers: After dropping some recent games to teams out of playoff contention the Florida Panthers needed to come through on Monday night against the Montreal Canadiens to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They did that with a 2-0 win that saw Roberto Luongo record his third shutout of the season by stopping all 28 shots he faced. It was also the 76th shutout of his career.

Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings: Jeff Carter continued his strong play since returning to the lineup with a pair of goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to help lift the Kings to a huge win over the Minnesota Wild. Read about it here.

Max Domi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes: The Arizona Coyotes are playing much better over the past few weeks and playing spoiler. They picked up another win on Monday night with a 5-2 victory over the Calgary Flames thanks to a pair of goals from teammates Max Domi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Ekman-Larsson ended up getting the game-winning goal late in the third period. It was also the 100th goal of his career.

The Canadiens are officially eliminated, and the Flames are in trouble

Not that the Montreal Canadiens were going to make the playoffs at this point, but it became official on Monday night with their 2-0 loss to the Florida Panthers that they were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

It was also a brutal night for the Calgary Flames as they lost to the Arizona Coyotes (who continue their improved play late in the season) and continued their late season slide. They remain six points out of a wild card spot with three teams ahead of them. With only eight games remaining on their schedule, while every team ahead of them still has games in hand, it is looking like their playoff hopes are disappearing.

Highlight of the Night

Aaron Ekblad had a big night for the Florida Panthers, getting into a fight in the first period and then scoring this slick goal to give them a 1-0 lead.

That is Ekblad’s 15th goal of the season.

Factoid of the Night

More Pekka Rinne information! His 40th win of the season puts him into some pretty elite company among all-time goaltenders. Yes, he played in the shootout era and certainly benefitted from that but it is still an impressive number, even in the shootout era.


Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Boston Bruins 4

Nashville Predators 4, Buffalo Sabres 0

Florida Panthers 2, Montreal Canadiens 0

Los Angeles Kings 4, Minnesota Wild 3

Arizona Coyotes 5, Calgary Flames 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Jeff Carter comes through to help Kings get two huge points

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The Los Angeles entered Monday’s game in Minnesota as one of the six teams in that chaotic scramble for one of the final three playoff spots still up for grabs in the Western Conference.

Trailing by a goal with less than a minute to play — after giving up three consecutive goals to squander what had been a two-goal lead — it seemed as if they were going to leave two important points on the table.

It was at that point that Dustin Brown sent the game to overtime with a late goal, setting the stage for Jeff Carter to score the game-winner in overtime and lifting the Kings to a 4-3 win.

It was Carter’s second goal of the game and continued his strong play since returning to the lineup in late February from injury. In 12 games since returning to the lineup Carter now has eight goals and 10 total points. The Kings are also now 7-4-1 with him back in the lineup. He is still an impact player and having him healthy is going to certainly be huge for the Kings down the stretch as they push for a playoff spot.

Make no mistake, this was a huge win for the Kings when it comes to getting that playoff spot. They entered the night with 84 points, two points back the Anaheim Ducks and tied with Dallas Stars. The Kings were sitting in the second wild card spot due to tiebreaker but were able to jump back ahead of the Ducks for the third spot in the Pacific Division with the win.

That means the Ducks fall into the second wild card spot, sitting two points ahead of the Stars and three points ahead of the St. Louis Blues. Colorado with 86 points is also very much in that group.

Speaking of the Avalanche, even though the Wild let a point slip away tonight by giving up the late goal and losing in overtime they still picked up point and were able to move four points ahead of the Avalanche for the No. 3 spot in the Central Division.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.