NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Alex Ovechkin‘s been stuck on 698 goals for five games now, with Thursday’s game against the Habs serving as his next crack at 700.
If it’s getting to Ovechkin, then he’s not admitting it. He denied his quest for 700 being a distraction for himself and his Capitals teammates.
“I don’t think somebody thinks about it,” Ovechkin said, via NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti. “If it happens, it happens. It’s just a matter of time, tomorrow, after tomorrow, whatever. We’re focusing right now to get our game better, to secure a playoff spot, and then we’ll move on.”
Blaming Ovechkin solely for the Capitals’ recent struggles (four losses, all in regulation, over the past five games) is oversimplifying. Consider, for instance, that they just concluded a three-game road trip in Vegas, all against viable opponents.
Even so, when a player is chasing a big milestone, teammates sometimes feel obliged to try to force it. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan cautioned against that, as Gulitti reports.
“From observing, I would say I think everybody wants him to get it and are trying hard for him to get it and I think we would benefit from just let’s play our game and it’s going to happen organically,” MacLellan said. “It’s just going to take care of itself. But you’d have to ask him that specifically if it’s affecting him.”
[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET]
Ovechkin shooting, not getting bounces yet to hit 700 goals
The gut reaction would be to say that Ovechkin has been terrible since trying to reach 700.
After all, Ovechkin hasn’t scored a goal. In fact, Ovechkin has been held pointless, suffering through a cumulative -6 rating.
Yet, if you dig a little deeper, Ovechkin’s drought is mainly a reminder that hockey is a game of bounces. Ovechkin’s been almost miraculously immune to sniping slumps during his already-illustrious career, but he does get snakebit from time to time.
The numbers certainly indicate that he’s trying.
Through those five games, Ovechkin fired a whopping 27 SOG. That’s even after starting slow with two SOG against the Flyers on Feb. 8. The NHL also credits him with nine missed shots. Ovechkin isn’t hesitating to shoot, he just needs a few bounces to reach 700 goals.
You wonder if Ovechkin might tweak his pregame superstitions, though.
Could Canadiens (unintentionally) provide the breakthrough?
Reviewing his play at all strengths at Natural Stat Trick, it seems like Ovechkin is honestly playing reasonably well. The results just haven’t been there lately, which happens in the bounce-heavy world of pucks.
The Canadiens could be a worthwhile target for Ovechkin, who fell short against the team he won a Stanley Cup against (and the franchise he scored “the goal” against). Through 49 career regular-season games against Montreal, Ovechkin’s scored an impressive 32 goals and 54 points. That translates to .65 goals per game, even better than Ovechkin’s remarkable overall career average of .61.
With a middle-of-the-pack 3.08 goals allowed per game and a middling 79.1% penalty kill success rate, the Habs could be just what the milestone-loving doctor ordered for Ovechkin.
Joe Beninati and analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May will have the call from Capital One Arena.
• NHL Power Rankings: Ovechkin’s top 10 goals
• By the Numbers: Ovechkin’s 698 NHL goals
• Stunning Numbers as Alex Ovechkin closes in on 700 goals
• Can Alex Ovechkin break Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals?
• My Favorite Goal: Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.