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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.

Lightning, Kucherov finish season making serious history

via Lightning Twitter
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Nikita Kucherov and the Tampa Bay Lightning could have let up, and rested, a long time ago.

Kucherov reached the 100-point mark in February, needing just 62 games to do so. The Lightning ridiculously clinched the Presidents’ Trophy on March 18.

For weeks, and really for all of the 2018-19 season, it hasn’t just been about playing well and winning games. This has been a season where the Lightning and their star winger have been chasing history. In defeating the Boston Bruins 6-3 on Saturday, the Lightning won their 62nd game, joining the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings as the only teams to ever do so in NHL history.

There’s beautiful symmetry, too, to the Lightning finishing with 128 standings points (62-16-4) while Kucherov ended what’s easily been the best season of his career with … yes, 128 points. He generated two points on Saturday, passing Alexander Mogilny’s 127 points as the most points scored in a single season by a Russian-born player.

(Kucherov’s hit certain milestones like 70 points while the Lightning crossed that same points barrier at times this season, so the player and the team have been in lockstep with each other in generating these incredible accomplishments.)

While the record-breaking point came via a less exciting assist on an empty-netter, Kucherov’s 127th point of the season was tremendous, even if – in very Kucherov fashion – he made it look easy. This video includes both points:

The headlines will be dominated by the Lightning tying that win mark, and Kucherov setting a new record for a Russian-born skater, and rightfully so. Still, sometimes you don’t really absorb the dominance of a player or team until you really stack up the numbers and milestones, so here are some other remarkable statistics from what has been one of the greatest runs in league history.

  • The Lightning’s 128 points stand as the fourth-most in NHL history.
  • As you might expect, the Lightning’s firepower stacks up with some of the best the league’s ever seen (especially if you account for this still being an era where goals are harder to come by). Tampa Bay finished the season with 325 goals, the highest total since the Penguins scored 362 in 1995-96.
  • They only allowed 222 goals against, putting the Lightning’s goal differential at a whopping +103. That’s the best since the Senators also managed a +103 differential back in 2005-06. (It’s easy to forget how explosive those Senators teams were, for a simple reason that should make Tampa Bay gulp: Ottawa couldn’t win a Stanley Cup.)
  • Sportsnet notes that the Lightning are the first team to manage a power-play percentage at 28 percent since the Flames did it way back in 1987-88.
  • Bryan Burns of the Lightning team website points out that the Lightning are also only the second team (joining the 2005-06 Red Wings) to reach at least 30 road wins. Tampa Bay finished with 30, one behind Detroit’s 31.

There are also some interesting notes about Kucherov, as well as Steven Stamkos.

  • Kucherov’s 87 assists tie Jaromir Jagr for the most assists in a single season by a winger. Jagr collected 87 back in 1995-96.
  • With 98 points, Steven Stamkos set a new career-high. He’s really been heating up lately, too, as he has 10 goals in as many games (finishing the season with 45).

Pretty amazing all around.

Of course, some will view all of this history made as hollow if the Lightning can’t win a Stanley Cup. That seems unfair, but it’s the way sports work.

If this run goes off the rails during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, some might wonder: was it worth it to chase history? Would it have been better to rest players instead, Kucherov included? On the other hand, the Bolts would likely counter that it’s better to go into a postseason playing sharp rather than risking rust.

However the matchups finish by the end of Saturday, the Lightning are set to face a rather difficult first-round matchup in the Hurricanes or Blue Jackets. Then again, looking at their numbers, maybe it doesn’t matter who they face — in any round?

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.

Jeff Carter, Kings make a little history in Game 2

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Obvious comment time: Game 2 was good to Jeff Carter and the playoffs have been great to the Los Angeles Kings. In fact, the team and the player made a little history tonight.

Carter came into Tuesday with one goal but generated a hat trick, the first playoff one of his NHL career. That wasn’t the only thing historic about it, either, as Frank Seravalli points out that it was the Kings’ first playoff hat trick since Wayne Gretzky scored one in 1993. The always-fun Kings Twitter feed points out that Carter now has more goals in the Western Conference finals (three) than the Coyotes (two).

Meanwhile, the Kings’ road prowess continues. They’re now 7-0 on the road in this year’s playoffs and are 9-0 since 2011, which ties the New York Islanders’ NHL record. Lou Korac points out that the Kings haven’t been down in a game since Game 1 … of the St. Louis Blues series. That’s not a record, but it is a jaw-dropper.

That’s impressive stuff, but the Kings don’t have to worry that much about the series shifting to the Staples Center, where they’re still a respectable 3-1 this year. Perhaps they can continue to advance the subjective and not-really-stats-based argument that they might be the best eighth seed in NHL history.

Another record broken: 16 first-round overtime games

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If you’re the type who loves to exclaim “free hockey” whenever overtime rolls around, then the first round of the 2012 playoffs has been a treat. In fact, it’s been a historically good time to roll out that meme, as Game 7 of the New Jersey Devils-Florida Panthers series was the 16th game to go to OT – setting a new record for the first round.

While there have been a few series that haven’t been tooth-and-nail battles, plenty of records for close games have been broken.

Off the top of my head, the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals generated the first series in which all seven contests were decided by a single goal. Meanwhile, the first five games of the Phoenix Coyotes-Chicago Blackhawks series went to overtime, becoming just the second series to do so.

Ultimately, it only makes sense that the Philadelphia Flyers will need to wait that much longer to find out which team they’ll face in the second round.

Comparing Smith’s shutout streak to Boucher’s record run

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Martin Brodeur owns the all-time shutout records, but for single-season deals, the Phoenix Coyotes are filling up the record books. Brian Boucher became the unlikely record holder for the league’s modern shutout streak at a whopping 332 minutes in 2003 while Mike Smith made the most saves (54) in any regulation shutout on Tuesday. That goose egg was just the historical exclamation point on a great three-game shutout streak that continues into Thursday, so it only makes sense that NHL.com’s Jerry Brown decided to compare the two.

Here are some of the highlights from Brown’s findings:

  • Despite needing two more shutouts (and more than 100 minutes worth of scoreless time) to pass Boucher, Smith has amazingly already made more saves (157) during his streak than Boucher (147) did during his.
  • To put that run in perspective – and raise Dave Tippett’s blood pressure – Smith has faced 45.3 shots per game in the last three contests, so it’s not exactly like he’s easing into those shutouts.
  • That trio gives Smith eight shutouts on the season, tying a Coyotes franchise record.
  • Let’s not forget that his great run is coming when Phoenix needs it the most. The Coyotes aren’t yet guaranteed a playoff spot, but if they end up in the postseason for the third straight year, it’ll be because they’re so tough to score on. Credit Tippett all you want but Smith is worthy of praise.

Speaking of praise, Tippett gushed about his goalie, even if he isn’t ecstatic about the defense in front of him.

“Smitty’s been unbelievable. Time after time, he’s made big saves for us and it’s been an incredible run,” Tippett said. “But this is three games in a row now. Right now, thinking about (winning) the division should be an afterthought. If we’re going to have any chance at all, we have to play better as a group. A lot of other guys need to jump in. We have to dig a little deeper. We’re going to have to figure out some things, like lineup changes.”

Perhaps Sean Burke deserves a portion of the credit for the Coyotes not even missing a beat – if not getting stronger – in net after Ilya Bryzgalov’s high-profile departure.

Whenever Smith’s streak ends, it’ll likely be an impressive achievement – and he might just make a little more history in the process.