Ovechkin, Marleau, Crosby closing in on NHL milestones

The milestone is a significant part of any NHL player’s career and can be marked in a variety of ways. In one instance, a player’s puck will be collected from the twine and handed to the trainer, who will tape the puck and cement the record in thick black Sharpie. In others, teammates will chip in for a commemorative watch or ownership will reward a player with a silver stick. And even on the road, teams will pay tribute to visiting players for their achievements on the jumbotron.

Despite the shortened season and several protocols, COVID-19 hasn’t put an end to tributes and significant strides for players. From the all-time goal-scoring record to the most games played in the NHL and beyond, there are several records to be broken this season.

Here are the top NHL milestones to watch for in 2020-21.

Alex Ovechkin

The Great 8 is still in pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring record of 894 and currently sits at 719. He passed Phil Esposito for sixth on the NHL’s all-time goals list with a tally in the Caps’ March 15 victory over New York. In the bigger picture, he’s 177 tallies from passing Gretzky.

“Obviously it’s history,” Ovechkin said of passing Esposito. “It’s great numbers. I’m happy to be in that category.”

The 35-year-old captain picked up another milestone on the same night, hitting 1,300 points with an assist on a T.J. Oshie goal. He ranks second in points among active players, trailing only Joe Thornton with 1,520 points) and continues to inspire his teammates as he continues to check off several NHL milestones.

“He took me under his wing and then when we got older, I took him under my wing,” Backstrom joked about his bond with the Russian winger, adding, “There’s never a boring day around that guy.”

Patrick Marleau

One of the NHL’s iron men, Marleau has cemented his legacy in San Jose. The 41-year-old is the franchise’s all-time leader in goals (563), points (1,193), and most importantly, games played (1,750).

“I still love playing,” Marleau told reporters in October. “I still love the competition. Still going after my dream of winning the Stanley Cup, and still able to get out there and play and have fun, and I think that’s the thing that gets me going.”

Beyond being seven points away from 1,200, there is something even more remarkable about his stat line. He sits just 17 games behind Gordie Howe as the NHL’s all-time leader in games played and is set to become the league’s longest-tenured player this year, considering he dresses for the majority of games to close out the regular season.

Sidney Crosby

The three-time Stanley Cup champion recently celebrated 1,000 games in the league and continues to make history year after year. Crosby also has another NHL milestone waiting for him a he is just eight points from joining fellow No. 1 overall pick Alex Ovechkin in the 1,300-point club.

Pittsburgh’s captain continues to shine through several injuries and setbacks, producing at an exponential rate of 1.28 points per game. As he continues to pursue another title, he’s also just 19 goals shy of 500 in his career and has 29 points in 28 games this season.

“He sets the example each and every day,” head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters of No. 87. “The accountability starts with him and then trickles down through our organization. He’s the standard… Sid is the standard that everyone holds themselves accountable to.”

Anze Kopitar

Despite the Kings’ struggles in recent years, Kopitar’s been a constant. The Slovenian center skated in his 1,100th career NHL game on Sunday and eyes an even bigger NHL milestone to finish 2020-21: 1,000 career points.

Kopitar has seven goals and 25 assists through 27 games this season and currently sits at 982 career points. He’s on pace to hit 66 points this season, which puts him on track to easily pass the 1,000-point plateau. Not to mention, he’s making a strong case for the Hart.

“I keep working on my game,” Kopitar said of his play. “I’m trying to study it and I’m having fun, most importantly.”

“He’s about as consistent a player as I’ve been around in my 20, 25 years of pro hockey,” head coach Todd McLellan added. “Credit to him and everybody else seems to follow.”

Victor Hedman

Hedman has made his presence known from the first day he entered the league as not only a force to be reckoned with on the backcheck but a major catalyst on offense to boot. The 6-6 blueliner joined the 500-point club with an assist in Tampa’s 4-2 victory over Detroit on March 18, where he also added a goal for 501 total career points.

The 2020 Conn Smythe winner leads the league in scoring among defensemen (29 points) and will join fellow defenseman John Carlson as the second blueliner to join the 500 club this season. Hedman is arguably the favorite for the Norris and is tied with Ondrej Palat as the Bolts’ leading scorer.

“I want to be at the top of my career… I put the pressure on myself to go out there and try to be as good as I can every night to help my team win,” Hedman said of his play this season.

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Tuukka Rask

Boston’s netminder celebrated hitting the 50-shutout mark last season, and is ready to add another impressive NHL milestone to his resume. Rask currently has 299 career wins and when he returns from injury, he’s poised to capture his 300th victory.

“Tuukka’s is one of the best goalies in the league,” Brad Marchand said. “He’s the backbone of our team. Every great team has a great goalie. That’s what we need out of him if we want to go all the way this year.”

Through 14 games this season, the Finnish netminder is 8-4-2 with a 2.46 GAA and .906 save percentage. He also gave us one of the league’s best bloopers of 2021.

Marc-Andre Fleury

At the start of the season, questions surrounding Marc-Andre Fleury’s role in Vegas and if his time with the Golden Knights was coming to an end with Robin Lehner ready to take over the crease. However, an injury to Lehner in mid-February, combined with Fleury’s dominance between the posts of late, has helped him win back that starting spot as he sits just 21 victories away from 500 career wins.

Through 19 games this season, Fleury is 15-5-0 and leads the league with a 1.77 GAA and .936 save percentage. He’s tied with Philipp Grubauer for first in shutouts (4) and is just five away from 70 in his career. Additionally, the future Hall of Famer recently hit the NHL milestone of 50,000 minutes in the NHL and leads all active goaltenders in victories.

“Every game I try to do my best, try to keep my team in the game. It doesn’t matter if my legs are tired or not, I just try to find a way to keep the game close,” Fleury said of his increased workload this season. “The guys in front of me help a lot.”

Additional NHL milestones to watch

• “Jumbo” Joe Thornton is two assists shy of 1,100 in his career.

Phil Kessel is seven games away from playing in his 1,100th career game and is one assist shy of 500 in his career.

Zdeno Chara (1,581 GP) will reach 1,600 games if he plays consistently through the regular season.

Ryan Suter (596 points) and Keith Yandle (591 points) are closing in on 600 in their respective careers. Yandle recently skated in his 1,000th career NHL game. Mark Giordano (496) is also closing in on the 500-point mark.

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