Ovechkin seems comfortable chasing Gretzky’s goals record

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Considering the “Aww, shucks” demeanor of many NHL players, it’s still sometimes surprising to hear someone speak the truth in a matter-of-fact way.

Of course you’d think Alex Ovechkin would want to someday break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record of 894, but plenty of players would mumble some sort of cliche about it. Yet, at 236 goals away at 658, it’s at least a conceivable goal, and it sounds like Ovechkin’s at least willing to state the obvious: that it’s at least in the back of his mind.

Elliotte Friedman pointed out that Ovechkin stated as much in the latest edition of “31 Thoughts.”

“Of course it matters,” Ovechkin said when asked about Gretzky’s record, “But like I said, I’m not going to score 300 goals in two years. It’s going to take five or six years. I have to be healthy enough to do that. I don’t want to play just for that record. I want to be healthy, I want to have fun, I want to enjoy the moment when I’m on the ice.”

… While Ovechkin acknowledged the possibility to Sportsnet radio hosts Tim & Sid:

(“We have to talk about something,” indeed.)

With unique talents like Gretzky and Ovechkin, extraordinary numbers and feats start to feel expected, and ordinary.

For most NHL forwards, 236 goals would make for a really nice career, let alone a number to strive for when you’ve already played 1,000+ NHL games, won multiple high-level awards, and a Stanley Cup. That goal is especially lofty when you realize Ovechkin will turn 34 on Sept. 17.

But considering the machine-like scoring of the Russian Machine Who Never Breaks, it’s irresistible to forecast Ovechkin flirting with 900.

For those who truly cannot resist, consider the paces Ovechkin would need to reach 894 from his current 658:

Four seasons: 59 goals per year.

Five seasons: A bit more than 47 goals per year (47.2).

Six seasons: Slightly less than 40 goals per season (39.33).

Seven seasons: Almost 34 goals per season (33.7).

Eight seasons: Essentially a 30-goal average (29.5).

Nine seasons: Slightly more than 26 goals per year (26.2).

Ten seasons: 23.6 goals per year (or about 24).

The interesting thing about stretching that pace out is that, while Ovechkin playing longer into a career would increase the odds by sheer volume, to some extent it does a better job of putting the monumental task into perspective. If Ovechkin got hurt or was slowed, he’d have to remain at a high level for a long time, or manage to maintain his currently extremely high level for a considerable run.

(Consider that, in 2018-19, only 87 players finished with at least 23 goals.)

Yet, if any player can actually meet or exceed 894 goals, it’s Ovechkin. Remarkably, he’s still slightly ahead of Gretzky’s sniping pace, as Ovechkin’s 658 goals in 1,084 games puts him at .61 goals-per-game, while Gretzky’s 894 in 1,487 is slightly behind at .60.

This race has been discussed before, including at PHT, and will almost certainly be a topic as Ovechkin’s career continues, what with Ovechkin coming off of a 51-goal, Maurice Richard Trophy-winning season in 2018-19.

Whether Ovechkin makes it or falls short, it should be fun to watch.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.