If you get into a bar argument with a sports fan about Alex Ovechkin, there’s a strong chance that at least one person will argue that the Washington Capitals superstar is “not clutch.”
It’s easy to compile such an argument, whether it’s fair or not. The Capitals won three Presidents’ Trophies in the Ovechkin era, yet they’ve never gotten to a third round with him on their roster. His Olympic struggles are both dramatic and well-documented.
That said, if you extract team successes and failures from the picture – which is difficult for many to do, that’s true – it gets tougher to deny that there’s some “clutchness” there, unless you just start to wrestle with whether “clutch” is even a real thing or not.
(Allow me to not open that pandora’s box.)
Last night, Alex Ovechkin scored his 21st overtime goal, adding to an NHL record he already owned. In the process, he came that much closer to 100 career game-winners in the regular season.
Here’s the goal itself:
As you can see, Ovechkin is one GWG away from joining a club of players who’ve scored at least 100; he’d be the eighth person to do so. It might not take him long to pass Jarome Iginla, and depending upon how his twilight years go, Patrick Marleau.
It’s plausible that Ovechkin may finish his career on the top of that list, though he might fall short of passing kindred spirit/guy he once clobbered in initial play Jaromir Jagr.
Jagr is a kindred spirit because, while he’s currently in the Teemu Selanne phase of his career as an ageless wonder loved by just about any fan interested in the game, number 68 was once a frequent scapegoat in his own right. Plenty of people questioned his character and work ethic, at times to the point of things getting cartoonish. Sometimes stars like these need to go through that period before people embrace them like they always should have.
And the more you look into things, it’s clear that a lot of fans should drop the disdain and enjoy just how special Ovechkin is.
Consider this: Ovechkin is just 32, yet Hockey Reference’s listings show that he’s been in the top-10 in game-winning goals in 10 seasons. Ovechkin led the league in that category three times and was in the top five on seven occasions.
For a guy who takes a beating for not lifting the Stanley Cup (yet?), Ovechkin shows up in the playoffs, too.
During his career, Ovechkin has scored 46 goals and 90 points in 97 career postseason games, close to a point-per-contest. Just about every player sees a dip in regular season versus playoff numbers – it’s the nature of the beast with checking tighter and every goal mattering much more – so being able to generate offense that often sure indicates some “clutchness” to me.
At some point, you just have to tip your cap to a great player, and maybe stop frowning and enjoy his boisterous celebrations and once-in-a-lifetime scoring skills. You might get a chance to do that again soon, as Ovechkin sits at 581 goals. He might just hit the 600 mark in 2017-18, joining 19 other NHL players to cross that barrier.
This post isn’t meant to imply that Ovechkin is totally flawless and it’s unlikely that a mountain of milestones will move his harshest critics.
Then again, if listing some of these resounding accomplishments helps even a few extra hockey fans enjoy a rare talent, it’s well worth it. At 32, Ovechkin could really rack up numbers for a long time, but his window could close as a true goal-scoring phenom.
It wouldn’t be very clutch to come around to Ovechkin once his best days are all behind him, now would it?
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.