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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.