Wednesday Night Hockey: Alex Ovechkin’s stunning numbers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Washington Capitals on Wednesday Night Hockey with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins are still trying to find some consistency this season and work their way back into a solid playoff position, while the Capitals are once again rolling toward the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. Also rolling is their captain, Alex Ovechkin, who is playing some of the best hockey of his career and going for yet another goal-scoring crown.

He enters Wednesday’s game with a league-best 29 goals in the Capitals’ first 32 games, good enough for a four-goal lead over Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner … who has played in three more games.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season only six players have scored more than 29 goals through their team’s first 32 games: Bernie Nicholls (34 in 1989), Mario Lemieux (who did it twice with 33 in 1993 and 31 in 1989), Brett Hull (32 in 1991), Steve Yzerman (31 in 1989), and Jaromir Jagr (30 in 1997).

On their own those numbers are incredible. They become even more stunning when you realize he is doing this in his age 33 season at a point when players are usually slowing down. Instead, he just keeps getting better.

With that in mind let’s take some time to look at some other stunning numbers from Ovechkin’s career to this point.

A 74-goal pace. Entering play on Wednesday Ovechkin is on a 74-goal pace for the season. If he were to maintain that he would be just the 15th player in league history to top the 70-goal mark in a season. All but one came between the 1980 and 1993 seasons when goal-scoring in the NHL was at an all-time high (Phil Esposito’s 76 goal season in 1970-71 was the only one that did not happen during that stretch). No one has scored 70 goals in a season since the 1992-93 season when Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne both hit 76 for the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets, respectively. There have only been two 60-goal seasons over the past two-and-a-half decades — Steven Stamkos with 60 during the 2011-12 season and Ovechkin with 65 during the 2007-08 season.

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• Chasing another 50-goal season and Richard Trophy. Barring an injury, this start to the season makes another 50-goal season seem inevitable. If he gets there it will be the eighth time in his career. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy (both with nine) have more. He would also be just the fourth player in league history to have done it in his age 33 season or later, with Jaromir Jagr (54 in 2005-06) and Johnny Bucyk (51 in 1970-71), and Bobby Hull (50 in 1971-72) being the others.

If he ends up leading the league again it will be the ninth time he has done that.

Nobody else in league history has led the league in goal-scoring more than seven times.

No one close during his era. Since entering the NHL in 2005-06 Ovechkin’s 636 goals are 210 more than the second-leading goal scorer during that stretch. That player? Penguins captain Sidney Crosby with 426. The gap between Ovechkin and Crosby at No. 1 and 2 is the same as the gap between Crosby and the 69th ranked player on the list, Patric Hornqvist.

Not even Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer, had that big of a gap over the rest of his peers at the same point in his career.

When Gretzky was 14 seasons into his career he had a 183-goal lead over the second-leading goal-scorer during that stretch.

Power play dominance. Everyone in the league knows where Ovechkin is going to be on the power play, and everybody knows what is going to happen once he gets there and the Capitals get the puck to him. Ovechkin’s 237 career power play goals are 99 more than any other player in the league. Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin is second with 138. The gap between those two is the same as the gap between and the 172nd player on the list (Patrik Berglund).

• Nobody shoots the puck as often as Ovechkin. He has already topped the 5,000 shot mark for his career and enters play on Wednesday eighth on the all-time list. If he continues at his current four shots per game pace for the rest of the season he would finish the season in fifth place on the all-time list behind only Ray Bourque, Jaromir Jagr, Marcel Dionne, and Al MacInnis. Assuming he plays in all 50 games, he would be at 1,085 games played. The four players ahead of him all played in more than 1,340 games with three of them having played in more than 1,400.

By the end of next season he could be as high as third on the list.

[Related: Alex Ovechkin isn’t slowing down]

He’s currently in seventh place in shots on goal for the season, 32 off the league lead. He has led the league 11 times prior to this season. Bobby Hull is the only player in league history that has done it at least seven times since the league started tracking shots on goals.

A fifth of the franchise’s goals during his career. That is what Ovechkin has done for the Capitals since entering the league. He has scored just under 20 percent of the team’s goals since the start of the 2005-06 season. Let’s take a look at how that percentage stacks up to some of the more prominent goal-scorers since then that have played for one team.

Nobody is really even close.

Gretzky played the first nine years of his career with the Edmonton Oilers and “only” scored 16.76 percent of the team’s goals during that time.

As of Wednesday, he is 15th on the NHL’s all-time goals list and could potentially climb as high as the No. 12 spot before the end of this season. He is currently 258 behind Gretzky’s all-time record of 894. If he finished this season with exactly 50 goals he would be 237 behind. If he played until age 40 he would need to average 33 goals per season to match it. If he played until age 38 he would need to average around 37 goals per season.

That would be an almost unprecedented pace, but pretty much everything he has done in his career from a goal-scoring perspective is unprecedented in this (or any) era.

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Kathryn Tappen hosts NHL Live ahead of Penguins-Capitals on Wednesday, alongside analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and insider Darren Dreger.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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

Stars sign 41-goal scorer Jason Robertson to 4-year, $31M deal

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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FRISCO, Texas — Jason Robertson signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp.

The Stars announced the deal after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at Nashville.

Robertson turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when the left wing had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. His 13 power-play goals led the team. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

“Jason is an integral part of the present and future of our team and we’re thrilled to have him for the next four years,” general manager Jim Nill said.

A second-round draft pick (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. The 6-foot-3 California native had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

“Since he was drafted by our organization, he has worked tirelessly to become a better player every day. His knack for scoring goals and seeing plays develop on the ice are just some of the tremendous assets that he brings to our team,” Nill said. “He is one of the best young players in the NHL, and we look forward to seeing him continue to progress.”

Robertson had the second-highest point total for a Stars rookie in 2020-21, when he had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in his 51 games.

Before the start of this season’s camp, new coach Pete DeBoer said he looked forward to coaching Robertson.

“Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here,” DeBoer said then. “So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Robertson will finally be there now.

Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

TORTS REFORM

Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

“I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

BIG MO

The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

“He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

PLAYOFF ROTATION

Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

“I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

“He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

“This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

LAMBERT ISLAND

Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

“Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

MORE NEW VOICES

The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

“He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

“We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

“I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.