It wasn’t long ago that Alex Ovechkin looked primed for his seventh Maurice Richard Trophy.
The Great 8 was consistently notching goals and keeping a distance between himself and his nearest competitors. What would be needed from prospective challengers to close the gap was a lengthy run in the goal department.
And that’s exactly what has happened.
The last couple of weeks have thrown a mighty wrench into Ovi’s plans of seeing his name engraved Rocket’s trophy again. This isn’t to say that Ovechkin won’t claim the title this season — he’s done it more times than anyone since it was introduced in 1999 — it’s just that the race has gotten pretty exciting as the NHL heads into its final swath of games.
Let’s break down the challengers and a couple pretenders who might get a promotion over the final few weeks of the season.
The man the top snipers in the league have been chasing for the majority of the season. Entering Saturday’s action, Ovechkin sits on the throne when it comes to goal scoring. He’s the only man to have hit 40 this season and looks primed to add to that total over the past 15 games of the season. It’s certainly not out of the realm for Ovechkin to hit 50 this year, and he may need to do so to fend off some of those sitting very close behind him.
Laine idolized Ovechkin growing up. And now he has an opportunity to snatch the goal scoring title from his childhood hero. Just 10 games ago, Laine was sitting with a cool 25 goals. Fast forward to Thursday night, and Laine scored his 14th goal in his past 10 games, putting him one behind Ovechkin in the race. What’s even more incredible about Laine is that he’s only 19 years old, and he plays the game like he has ice in his veins. It’s unlikely he’s going to let any nerves get to him as he tries to usurp Ovi. Did I mention Laine is only 19? Yikes.
Our very own Joey Alfieri wrote an excellent piece on Malkin and why people haven’t been talking about him. Malkin has 24 goals in 28 games since the beginning of 2018. It’s an insane amount, and a run that has him sitting on 38 goals on the season. Malkin is going to be in the running for the Hart this season. Winning the Rocket Richard might put him over the top.
It’s been a decade since Staal produced a 40 goal season. He’s 33 now. But father time and the odds he brings don’t seem to care too much this season — Staal has simply turned back the clock. Staal’s heater has him with 18 goals in his past 20 games, putting him just three shy of Ovechkin with 37. Staal’s shooting percentage is sitting just below 20 percent this season and he’s averaging close to three shots a game. The math suggests he’s got a few more in him this season.
Seguin mirrors Ovechkin in terms of his consistency. While Laine, Malkin and Staal have gone on some pretty epic goal-scoring excursions, Seguin has just scored at a nice rate throughout the year. That means Seguin will need to have some sort of streaky stretch to catch up, but his 36 goals have him right in the mix. And even a small streak could swing things in his favor if the players above him cool off.
No one expected this. (And it’s one of the reasons why I debated having Karlsson in as a challenger). Out of all the top goal scorers in the league, Karlsson sits at the summit with a near-24 percent shooting percentage. The jury is really out on what Karlsson can do in Vegas’ last 15 games. He’s averaging north of two shots per game but hasn’t scored in his past three. No one expects him to win this race, and that’s what makes his 35 goals so intriguing.
You could put Nikita Kucherov here. He’s got one more goal than MacKinnon’s 32. But Colorado’s playoff hopes rest on MacKinnon’s shoulders and MacKinnon has shown all season that he’s up for the task. MacKinnon has eight goals in his past 10 games after being sidelined for three weeks due to injury. The odds aren’t the best, but he’s scoring a rate this season and rivals those ahead of him.