James Reimer collected a big win for the Florida Panthers, who bested the Boston Bruins 3-0 on Thursday. Shutting out the Bruins is a tough task in 2017-18, as this was their first goose egg since October. It wasn’t an off night either, as Reimer made 46 saves.
Quite a few players enjoyed three-point outputs. Nathan MacKinnon probably steals the show thanks to context, though, as he extended a 10-game point streak by collecting two goals and one assist, pushing his season scoring total to a ridiculous 85 points in just 62 games.
Patric Hornqvist crossed the 400-point barrier (and actually added one more to finish the night with 401 career regular-season points) by scoring the game-winner for Pittsburgh. Click here for a recap of a game that featured two goals and one assist from Hornqvist.
Two centers on the ice at once is a nice luxury for the Philadelphia Flyers to have.
”He’s one of the best in the league at faceoffs,” Couturier said of Giroux, who ranks third in the NHL. ”When you start with the puck, it’s a huge part of the game.”
Beyond just controlling faceoffs, having depth at center is a growing factor for success in the NHL. Contenders like the Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins all boast depth down the middle and are spreading centers all over the lineup.
The flexibility gives teams potentially game-altering matchups with the playoffs coming up in a month.
”You can never have enough center-ice men on your team for lots of reasons,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
Crucial faceoffs, injuries and defensive-zone coverage are many of the reasons to load up on centers who can almost always shift to wing and not miss a beat. Philadelphia has long followed the model of drafting and acquiring centers and moving them around, and now has nine natural centers on its roster.
”To have the depth that we have at this point at the center-ice position is I think an important aspect of our overall game,” Sullivan said. ”We didn’t have that coming into training camp. I think our general manager, Jim (Rutherford), has worked extremely hard at making sure that he gave us what has become now I think a strength of our team.”
It’s also a strength of the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning, who are overflowing with center options beyond Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and trade-deadline pickup J.T. Miller. The Toronto Maple Leafs also roll deep with forwards who play center or have in the past, including Patrick Marleau and recent acquisition Tomas Plekanec.
”I can get a can’t-miss matchup,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. ”You’re not scared of any matchup as time goes on.”
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
It’s all about the matchups in the arms race that is the absurd Central Division. It wasn’t good enough that the Central-leading Predators had Ryan Johansen, signed Bonino last summer and traded for Kyle Turris in November; they welcomed center Mike Fisher back from retirement and still have Colton Sissons and Craig Smith.
The Jets acquired center Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues to add to an already forward-heavy roster. It paid immediate dividends with Patrik Laine extending his point streak to 13 games and Winnipeg cruising along after Mark Scheifele went down with an injury.
”We’ll be putting two centers out there for D-zone draws and whatnot,” said Andrew Copp, who thinks Winnipeg’s center depth stacks up with the best in the league. ”That’s really important, and then just depth with injuries. … Now we’ve got six, seven, eight guys that we can really lean on.”
It’s an increasingly popular strategy. The Flyers are vying for the league lead in faceoffs, handling the early-season crackdown on faceoff violations and compensating for a young, mostly unproven defense with versatile forwards.
”Being strong up the middle is important,” coach Dave Hakstol said. ”That’s the backbone of every line, so to have guys that are comfortable in that spot I think is important. Playing down low in your zone – there’s so much switching and interchanging that goes on from the wing to that down-low position in coverage, having somebody that’s comfortable being down there I think is a benefit, as well.”
Two centers are better than one not just for faceoffs but because the extra responsibilities of the position allow for better awareness in the defensive zone, where wingers typically are only tasked with defending their respective opposing winger in man-to-man schemes. Giroux shifted to wing on the top line with Couturier after spending the past eight-plus years at center and is approaching his career high in points and playing some of the best hockey of his career.
”We get a read off each other,” said Couturier, a leading candidate for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward. ”It’s about chemistry and trying to trust each other out there. Guys can fill in different roles and it’s nice and it helps the team. That’s what you kind of want from having so many centermen is you want to fill in each other’s roles.”
Having extra centers is a substantial benefit – if they can handle the position change. Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler made a rapid adjustment from wing to center amid injuries, but just about everyone agrees it’s much easier to go the other way.
”There’s a real quick adjustment to going from center to the wing: figure out how to work the walls and find your point men,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. ”That’s a very difficult change.”
In a way, he feels like the “goal-scoring present,” while he’s being chased by the future (Patrik Laine) for the Maurice Richard and his 600th goal is already inspiring questions about whether he can topple the most prolific snipers of the past, with Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals coming up in plenty of discussions.
Here’s the 600th goal, which came in Washington’s 3-2 overtime win against Winnipeg on Monday:
One can debate Ovechkin’s place among the greatest pure snipers of all-time until you’re blue in the face, but either way, Ovechkin will have to grind his way to within Gretzky’s record. It’s truly astounding that Ovechkin hit 600 goals during this era in fewer than 1,000 games (990 to be exact), but he’d face a long road to scoring almost 300 more.
If nothing else, Ovechkin does care about certain stats and numbers, as he said while discussing the Rocket Race against Laine, via NHL.com’s Brian McNally:
“We look at the standings, look at the stats,” Ovechkin said. “If you close to top three or top five, of course you pay attention. I think it’s normal thing. I don’t believe when someone says, ‘I don’t care about the stats,’ and all of this kind of stuff. Of course they want points, they wants goals.”
By that logic, wouldn’t Ovechkin want to score more goals than anyone else, even Gretzky? You’d think so, but let’s consider the biggest and/or most interesting hurdles in his way.
Alex Ovechkin: 600 goals in 990 games on 128 different goaltenders
So far, Alex Ovechkin has largely avoided the pitfalls of the aging curve, which seems to hit snipers especially hard. It’s profound that people were worried about a 33-goal season from Ovechkin in 2016-17, yet that really highlights how reliably he’s filled the net. Consider that, since 2012-13, he’s hovered around his career average of .60 goals per game during every season except 2016-17.
Theoretically, Ovechkin could fall to a goal every other game and still pass Gretzky if he plays in about 600 more games.
That sounds exceedingly plausible when you consider how frequently Ovechkin scores, especially since he’s able to fire in about 20 power-play goals from his “office” each season. Still, it’s one thing to score 40+ goals per season when you’re in your prime, or even at 32.
As they say, though, “Father Time is undefeated.”
(Jaromir Jagr sadly nods his head.)
The contract, Olympics, and KHL
So, Ovechkin’s 13-year contract ($9.538 million cap hit) expires after the 2020-21 season, meaning Ovechkin has 13 regular-season games plus three more seasons to continue piling up goals.
Things get interesting after that, especially if Ovechkin wins that elusive Stanley Cup sometime between now and 2020-21.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
What if the next CBA agreements don’t include an agreement to go to the 2022 Winter Olympics? Ovechkin made it no secret that he was upset with not representing Russia/the Olympic Athletes of Russia at the latest tournament. If there’s the threat of that happening again, and what would be an undoubtedly huge offer in the KHL, there’s at least the chance that Ovechkin could experience a Jagr-style sojourn overseas, prompting plenty of “What if?” scenarios about his NHL numbers.
Style of play
According to Yahoo’s stats, Ovechkin has delivered 1,792 hits and 238 blocked shots since 2009-10. That doesn’t cover his entire career, and it doesn’t cover hits received. Either way, Ovechkin is involved in a ton of collisions, and while he’s been improbably sturdy, sometimes a player can fall apart pretty quickly.
(Again, Jagr sadly nods.)
Ovechkin fires a ton of shots and is involved in a lot of collisions in just about every game. Shooting a ton will help, and he can certainly milk that rocket of a shot from the faceoff dot, but attrition is on Gretzky’s side.
Last night, Ovechkin became the 20th player in NHL history to score 600 goals, and only Jagr’s 766 goals bests his total among active players. All things considered, Ovechkin has a shot at joining Gretzky and Gordie Howe (801 goals) as the only snipers to cross the 800-goal barrier.
Scoring 894 or more to match Gretzky, though? A lot of things would need to go Ovechkin’s way, including having the hunger to sustain such a goal if his rate slows considerably. As you can see from this post, there are a lot of factors that might push him off the path.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: Not only did he score career goal No. 600, but he was also the best and most dominant player on the ice. He finished with two goals in a 3-2 overtime win and attempted 15 shots, including eight that were on goal. He was everywhere.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights: Fleury was great once again for the Golden Knights on Monday stopping 38 of 40 shots in a 3-2 win. That performance helped him earn win No. 400 in his career.
Matt Duchene, Ottawa Senators: Matt Duchene helped the Ottawa Senators try to play spoiler on Monday night by scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winner, their 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers. The trade for Duchene has not really helped the Senators in the standings, and with only one year remaining on his contract who knows how long he will remain with the team, but he has really picked up the production the past couple of months and is up 17 goals in 53 games with the Senators.
Jimmy Vesey and Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers: The New York Rangers are not going to the playoffs but they did their part to make sure the Carolina Hurricanes will not be going either. The Rangers’ 6-3 win over the Hurricanes on Monday night was highlighted by Jimmy Vesey’s first career hat trick.
It was also a big night for Vesey’s teammate, Mats Zuccarello, who recorded his 100th career goal in the NHL by scoring a pair in the win.
The Blues are hanging around
Even though they had won just two of their past 11 games, traded one of their top forwards, and recently lost two more key players to injury the St. Louis Blues are still, somehow, hanging around in the Western Conference playoff race. They picked up a huge two points on Monday night with a 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks to win their second game in a row on their west coast road trip. They have now scored 11 goals in their past two games after scoring just 14 goals in the 10 games prior to that.
So here is where things stand in the Western Conference playoff race after Monday:
The Kings win over the Vancouver Canucks moves them into third place in the Pacific Division, moving them one point ahead of the Ducks after their loss to the Blues.
The Ducks, for the time being, fall out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference. They are tied with the Colorado Avalanche with 80 points in the standings, but with the Avalanche having played in two fewer games (as well as having five more regulation and overtime wins) they maintain the second wild card spot. For now.
The Blues sit one point behind both the Avalanche and Ducks. The Blues still have a game in hand on the Ducks.
For a look at how things are shaping up in the Eastern Conference playoff race after Monday’s games, click here.
Laine scores again
It came in a losing effort, but Patrik Laine score another goal for the Jets to continue on what has been a ridiculous hot streak. He has now scored at least one goal in 11 of his past 12 games (16 total goals) and is just one goal behind Ovechkin for the league lead. Remember, he is still only 19 years old.
Zetterberg moving up the Red Wings’ rankings
We said it was a night for milestones and accomplishments, so what is one more to add to the list? Henrik Zetterberg scored for the Detroit Red Wings to move into sole possession of fifth place on the team’s all-time goal scoring list, moving ahead of Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay. Zetterberg’s 336 goals trail only Gordie Howe (786), Steve Yzerman (692), Alex Delvecchio (456) and Sergei Fedorov (400) in franchise history.
Highlight of the Night
It has been a brutal season for the Montreal Canadiens and a disappointing one for Jonathan Drouin, but he still has a ton of talent. Check out this move on the breakaway on Monday night.
Alex Ovechkin entered Monday’s showdown against the Winnipeg Jets needing just two goals to hit the 600-mark for his career.
From the opening faceoff it was pretty clear that he was determined to make it happen.
It took him 35 minutes to get those two goals.
After scoring a power play goal in the first period (on one of his eight shot attempts in the period), Ovechkin tallied career goal No. 600 (and his league leading 42nd of the season) in the second period to become just the 20th player in NHL history to reach the milestone.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
He also did it faster than all but three players, becoming just the fourth player in NHL history to do it under 1,000 games.
Monday’s game was the 990th game of Ovechkin’s career. Wayne Gretzky (717 games), Mario Lemieux (718), and Bret Hull (900) are the only others. The main difference between those three and Ovechkin is they played the bulk of their careers in a significantly higher scoring era. Ovechkin has played his entire career in one of the lowest scoring eras in NHL history.