NHL On NBC: How high can Alex Ovechkin climb on all-time goal list this season?

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NBC’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There is no debate as to the best goal scorer of this era. It is Alex Ovechkin and everybody knows it.

He has the numbers, and his very presence on the ice still strikes fear into every opposing goalie, defenseman, coach, and fan. He possesses the type of rare dominance in sports that even when you know exactly where he is going to be, and exactly what he is going to do, you still can not consistently stop him.

At the start of every season the question is not necessarily will Ovechkin win the Rocket Richard Trophy, but how many goals will he win it with? He has finished with at least a share of the goal scoring crown in seven of the past eight seasons as he continues his climb up the NHL’s all-time leaderboard.

The only debate that remains to be settled is whether or not Ovechkin is the best of all time. Even that is starting to not really be much of a debate. He probably does not even have to surpass Wayne Gretzky’s career mark of 894 to rightfully take that title given the difference in eras.

If he leads the league in goals this season it will be the 10th time in his career he has accomplished it. No other player in NHL history has ever done that. Not even Gretzky.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET ON NBC]

Ovechkin has already finished as the league leader four different times after turning 30. How crazy is that accomplishment? Since 1950 there have only been eight other instances of a player over the age of 30 leading the NHL in goals. Nobody has done it more than three times. Phil Esposito led the league three times after age 30, Rocket Richard accomplished it twice, and Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, and Mario Lemieux each achieved it one time. Gretzky, by the way, never finished as the league’s top goal scorer after his age 26 season. Ovechkin is not only still the best, he is doing it at an age where even the all-time greats have not scored at this rate.

At this point it is not really the single-season goal crown that matters because it has become so routine for him. We expect it. He probably expects it.

It is now his pursuit of Gretzky’s all-time mark and whether or not he can actually get there that takes priority.

Even though it has not happened yet, you have to expect that he is going to slow down at some point. You also have to take into account that even though he has remained incredibly healthy and durable throughout his career, that could also at some point change.

[2020-21 NHL on NBC TV SCHEDULE]

There is also the fact that even if he does stay healthy, this will be the third shortened season of his career due to factors beyond his control. Even if he plays every game this season he will have still lost 74 games due to a lockout and the shortened seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21. That is pretty much a full season’s worth of games, which for Ovechkin probably means another 50-60 goals.

Even with all of that, he has a chance to make another significant jump on the all-time leaderboard this season.

His 48 goals a year ago helped him move from 14th to eighth, jumping over Hall of Famers Luc Robitaille, Teemu Selanne, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, and Mark Messier. He should move ahead of several more this season, and perhaps even climb as high as fourth on the all-time list.

If you go back over Ovechkin’s past five seasons he has averaged about 35 goals per 56 games played. In four of those seasons he has scored at least 33 goals through the first 56 games, and three times more than 38 goals. If he can maintain that 35-goal average over 56 games that would give him exactly 741 goals, which would put him a tie for fourth place with Brett Hull and move him to within 15 of Jaromir Jagr for third on the list.

That climb could start at any point this season as he enters Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh just two goals behind Mike Gartner for seventh place.

It is not a matter of if he starts passing more Hall of Famers, but simply a matter of when and how many.

Kathryn Tappen anchors studio coverage throughout the afternoon with analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.

NBC Sports presents its first-ever NHL quadrupleheader on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this Monday, Jan. 18, beginning at Noon ET on NBCSN, with a matinee between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings. The evening tripleheader on NBCSN features Patrice Bergeron and the Boston Bruins facing the New York Islanders at 5 p.m. ET, Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres against Claude Giroux and the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET, and the nightcap between Max Pacioretty and the Vegas Golden Knights hosting Phil Kessel and the Arizona Coyotes at 10 p.m. ET.

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.

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