My Favorite Goal: Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie in 2006

Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers and personalities remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, James O’Brien remembers Alex Ovechkin‘s sprawling goal against the Coyotes during his rookie season in 2006.

The greatest goal scorer I’ve ever seen scored the greatest goal I’ve ever seen.

Hockey generally isn’t a sport that’s friendly to stars shining with huge individual moments, at least not compared to other sports. That’s what makes all of the symmetry so special, why even Ovechkin struggles to explain how he did it, and how his Capitals teammates couldn’t even replicate the moment in practice.

Unlike some other favorite goals, Ovechkin’s goal wasn’t directly important. It wasn’t even important in the game it happened; his crummy Capitals were already up 5-1 against the also-crummy Coyotes on Jan. 16, 2006 when Ovechkin scored “the goal.”

Ovechkin snatched the puck in the neutral zone, blasted past defenseman Paul Mara with a curl-and-drag move, but Mara took Ovechkin off of his feet. That should have been the end of it: a blur of speed and power that served as a reminder that Ovechkin can make something out of nothing.

And then he really made something out nothing.

Ovechkin was essentially spinning on his back and neck, yet he somehow found a way to not only get a shot off, but to hook his arm in a way that sent the puck right into the net. A sprawling Brian Boucher couldn’t do anything about it, and even Wayne Gretzky had to marvel at the replay during his darkest hockey days as coach of the Coyotes.

Gretzky’s face would be our face … if his jaw also hit the floor.

Ovechkin’s goal against the Coyotes was one of those albums that only gets better the more you listen to it, or a movie that only improves with further viewings. What I’m saying is that it was “The Big Lebowski” of goals.

Brooks Laich really tied the explanation together when he explained what made it so special to the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan in a great retrospective of its 10-year anniversary in 2016:

” … This had so many facets: cutting across the ice, pulling the puck in tight, getting hit by a defender, rolling away from the net and facing away from the net and then hooking your arm around and getting it on the puck and directing it into the net,” Laich said. “There were so many variables in that goal that you really had to watch it so many times to really understand how special it was.”

What it meant to Ovechkin

“The goal” came at a powerful time for Ovechkin during a rookie season where he’d ultimately beat out Sidney Crosby for the 2005-06 Calder Trophy.

Ovechkin managed his first hat trick during the game before “the goal,” scoring three against the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Jan. 13, 2006. Managing a goal like that against the Coyotes, and doing so in front of Gretzky, had to feel like a “you made it” moment for Ovechkin as a rookie.

“Obviously lucky, but I’ll take it,” Ovechkin said, via the Canadian Press’ Stephen Whyno in 2016. “For that moment, it was unbelievable time. My dream was come true: I play in the NHL, I did that kind of special goal and Gretzky was there, as well.”

It’s tough to argue with former Capitals GM George McPhee’s assessment of Ovechkin: that he’s just that hungry to score goals.

“He never gave up on that,” McPhee said. “That’s why he’s a great goal-scorer: He just has a phenomenal shot, but it’s the desire to score. He’s always been so hungry to score.”

Zooming out

You might compare Ovechkin’s unthinkable goal to Odell Beckham Jr.’s seemingly impossible one-handed catch from November 2014. Both were superb physical talents doing impossible things, even as rookies, providing highlights that became downright iconic. Each player also can’t claim that the specific highlight reel moment was that important, as neither player’s team made the playoffs that year, and Beckham Jr.’s Giants even lost that game.

In considering Ovechkin’s goal, something emerged from my heart — or maybe my subconscious — for me, and maybe other hockey fans of a certain age, the early days of Ovechkin – Crosby had parallels to Sammy Sosa vs. Mark McGwire.

After an ugly MLB strike, the baseball world was captivated by Sosa and McGwire trading homers, and drumming their race quite amicably. The NHL needed its own ray of sunshine after the abominable full-season lockout of 2004-05, and it got some help from a bucket of goals (plus, not coincidentally, more penalties), but also the promise of two budding young superstars in Crosby and Ovechkin. Some grumbled at all the attention they received. Yet, in retrospect, those grumblings should have been silenced by that absolutely ridiculous sprawling goal.

That it happened in what was essentially garbage time made it powerful in its own way: if you miss a game, you might miss Ovechkin or some other superstar pulling off something mind-blowing.

The Ovechkin goal didn’t “save hockey,” nor did the Crosby – Ovechkin rivalry, or even any series or team.

That goal was a big part of soothing my hockey soul, as was that thrilling, and wild season. Although, come to think of it … maybe my jaw pops because of all the times it hit the floor while I stopped, paused, and rewound that astonishing video.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final

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.

Stars can’t afford to be without Heiskanen for too long

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Thursday night wasn’t good for the Dallas Stars. Not only did they lose to the Buffalo Sabres, they also watched as defenseman Miro Heiskanen suffered an upper-body injury during the game.

He’s considered day-to-day for now.

The 20-year-old was hurt after Sabres forward Rasmus Asplund made contact with his head as Heiskanen was falling down to the ice. He then went to the Stars locker room and never returned to the game.

“We all know what he does for us,” Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness said, per the Dallas News. “Our breakouts are a lot better, he joins the rush and he’s a danger on that offensive blue line. Take him out of there, and that’s a big hole. There’s just no getting around that. Injuries happen, and got to keep playing. Got to overcome them.”

Here’s how he got hurt:

It’s easy to see why Heiskanen wouldn’t be pleased with Asplund in the moment, but the contact with the head only occurs because Heiskanen falls forward right before his opponent gets to the corner. But Sweden on Finland crime will never go over well.

The Stars don’t know how long their young defender will be out, but, as Bowness mentioned, it’s clear that they need him back in their lineup quickly. He’s up to seven goals and 24 points in 47 games this season and he averages just over 24 minutes of ice time per game.

The fancy stats also show that when Heiskanen is on the ice the Stars control 55.31 percent of the XGF and 54.19% of the high-danger chances (stats via Natural Stat Trick).

He’s formed a nice duo with Jamie Oleksiak, as they’ve played 384 minutes together at five-on-five this season. If he’s out for an extended period of time, finding someone to slide into that spot won’t be easy.

“He’s an elite player on this team, so anytime you lose one of those guys, it doesn’t matter who it is, it’s going to hurt,” teammate Ben Bishop said after the loss to Buffalo. “Obviously, we’re down a goal there, we rely on those guys.”

On a more positive note, it sounds like they’ll be getting Stephen Johns back after he missed 22 months with post-traumatic headaches. He’ll have to be eased back into the lineup, but he could help fill the void left by Heiskanen. But they’ll likely have to do that as a committee.

The Stars currently find themselves in third place in the Central Division with a record of 27-16-4. They’re tied for second with Colorado, but the Avs hold the tie-breaker (they have more regulation/overtime victories). The Winnipeg Jets, who are currently fourth in the division and just outside the playoff picture, are four points behind Dallas.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Stars’ Stephen Johns nears return after 22-month absence

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DALLAS (AP) — Star defenseman Stephen Johns appears on track to return to Dallas’ lineup for the first time in 22 months on Saturday.

Johns, who returned from a conditioning assignment with Texas of the AHL, was not active for Thursday’s game but will travel with the Stars for their game at Minnesota.

He has not played in an NHL game since March 29, 2018, because of post-traumatic headaches.

”There’s a good chance he’ll play Saturday,” interim coach Rick Bowness said, ”so we’ll evaluate that (Friday) and Saturday morning.”

In two games for Texas, Johns had a goal and three assists.

The Stars could be in need of a defenseman after Miro Heiskanen didn’t play the second half of Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres because of an upper-body injury. Bowness said Heiskanen’s availability is considered day to day.

PHT Morning Skate: Under-the-radar rookies; Ovechkin’s suspension

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Find out a little bit more about Nicklas Backstrom‘s new contract extension with Washington. (Nova Caps)

• Here’s a list of five-under-the-radar rookies that could compete for the Calder Trophy. (The Hockey News)

• Three-on-three hockey is awesome, but don’t expect to see much more of it going forward. (TSN)

• Martin Brodeur is hoping to get a bigger role with the Devils going forward. (NHL.com)

• Check out Elliott Friedman’s latest 31 thoughts blog. (Sportsnet)

• Even though hockey has changed a lot, there’s still a need for “muscle”. (National Post)

• Have you ever wondered what it takes to be an effective pest in the NHL? (ESPN)

• Sabres top prospect Dylan Cozens is inspiring a lot of young athletes in Yukon. (New York Times)

Alex Ovechkin has decided which game he’ll miss as part of his suspension for skipping the All-Star game. (Washington Post)

• NBC Sports Boston breaks down the 10 best left wingers in hockey. Do you agree with this list? (NBC Sports Boston)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Golden Knights win DeBoer’s debut; Hats off to Ovechkin

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Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. Another milestone for the greatest goal scorer to ever play in the NHL. He recorded his 25th career hat trick on Thursday night and reached the 30-goal mark for the 15th consecutive season to start his career, a feat accomplished only by him and Mike Gartner. Read more about it here.

2. David Rittich, Calgary Flames. Huge night for the All-Star goalie as he stopped 35 shots during regulation and overtime and all three shots he faced in a shootout to help lift the Flames to a 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Flames have now won six of their past seven games. Thanks to the Arizona Coyotes’ loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the Flames are now tied for first place in the Pacific Division.

3. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights won Peter DeBoer’s coaching debut on Thursday night, 4-2, over the Ottawa Senators thanks to a big game from Stone. He scored a goal and recorded an assist in his first game back in Ottawa as a visiting player. Stone played the first six-and-a-half years of his career with the Senators and was one of the team’s best players during his time there. He was a key part of their 2016-17 run to the Eastern Conference Final and became one of the league’s best two-way players. The Senators traded him to Vegas at the trade deadline a year ago. He received a lengthy ovation from the Ottawa crowd on Thursday.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Jaroslav Halak gave up a goal to Sidney Crosby just 24 seconds into the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, then slammed the door shut the right of the night to help the Boston Bruins to a 4-1 win.
  • John Tortorella recorded his 200th win as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets in their 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. It is a huge win for the Blue Jackets and a costly game for the Hurricanes as defenseman Dougie Hamilton exited the game with a nasty looking leg injury. Read about it here.
  • The Minnesota Wild snapped their four-game losing streak with an impressive win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Read about it here.
  • Sam Montembeault replaced an injured Chris Driedger in the Florida Panthers’ net and helped them get a big win over the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk continued his great play with the Montreal Canadiens by scoring two goals in a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. He now has three goals and seven total points in seven games since joining the Canadiens.
  • Rasmus Dahlin scored his third goal of the season to help the Buffalo Sabres beat the Dallas Stars.
  • John Gibson stopped 33 shots for the Anaheim Ducks as they hand the Nashville Predators their seventh defeat in their past 10 games.
  • Philipp Grubauer stops all 27 shots he faces in a shutout win for the Colorado Avalanche over the San Jose Sharks.
  • Jake Virtanen avoids a suspension earlier in the day and then scores the game-winning goal for the Vancouver Canucks in a big win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Highlights of the Night

This might have been Rittich’s biggest and best save of the night.

Cam Atkinson wasted no time making an impact in his return to the Blue Jackets’ lineup with this assist early in the first period.

Chris Kreider scores a game-winning power play with 30 seconds to play in regulation to help give the New York Rangers a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.

Blooper of the Night

After whiffing on a shootout attempt earlier this week, Brad Marchand had some more problems on a breakaway.

Auston Matthews tried the lacrosse move and it did not work.

Factoids

  • Cale Makar scored his 10th goal of the season for the Colorado Avalanche, tying him for the most in franchise history for a rookie defenseman. [NHL PR]
  • Patrice Bergeron reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th time in his career, the second most in Bruins franchise history behind only John Buyck. [NHL PR]
  • Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov is the 10th rookie goalie to ever win nine consecutive decisions during the regular season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1
Calgary Flames 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1 (SO)
Florida Panthers 4, Los Angeles Kings 3
New York Rangers 3, New York Islanders 2
Montreal Canadiens 4, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Washington Capitals 5, New Jersey Devils 2
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Ottawa Senators 2
Anaheim Ducks 4, Nashville Predators 2
Minnesota Wild 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Buffalo Sabres 4, Dallas Stars 1
Colorado Avalanche 4, San Jose Sharks 0
Vancouver Canucks 3, Arizona Coyotes 1

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.