Phoenix Coyotes

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.

Coyotes, Boedker ‘continue to arm wrestle’ for new deal

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Sounds like talks are well underway between Arizona and winger Mikkel Boedker on a new deal.

“I’ve been in discussions with his agent,” Coyotes GM Don Maloney explained, per the Arizona Republic. “We’ll continue to arm wrestle to try to get something done.”

Boedker, 25, just wrapped a two-year, $5.1 million deal with a $2.55M average annual cap hit. Still an RFA, he should be in line for a fairly decent raise — the Danish speedster had a nice season for the Coyotes before a season-ending spleen injury in January; he had 14 goals and 28 points in 45 games and was the team’s leading sniper when he got hurt.

Barring a wild turn of events, it’s expected Boedker will be back on Arizona next season. The club only has a handful of forwards under contract next season and given he doesn’t turn 26 until December, Boedker could easily fit into what promises to be a youth movement in the desert; prospects Anthony Duclair and Max Domi will likely be with the big club next year, as could the likes of Henrik Samuelsson, Brendan Perlini and whomever the club takes with the No. 3 overall pick at this year’s draft.

Sens go back to ‘proven playoff’ performer Anderson

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Trailing 3-0 and facing elimination, the Ottawa Senators will go back to their veteran netminder tonight at home versus Montreal.

Coach Dave Cameron confirmed this morning that Craig Anderson would get the start over rookie Andrew Hammond.

“He has a proven playoff record of being a real good goalie,” Cameron told reporters.

Anderson stopped all but two of the Canadiens’ 49 shots in Sunday’s 2-1 overtime loss — a defeat that put the Sens on the verge of being swept.

As noted by his coach, the 33-year-old has been a solid playoff performer, registering a career postseason save percentage of .928 in 25 appearances. Among active goalies who’ve started more than 10 playoff games, only Mike Smith, Jonas Hiller, Braden Holtby, and Tuukka Rask have a higher save percentage than that. 

Vermette returns to Blackhawks lineup for Game 3

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Antoine Vermette will make his series debut tonight when the Blackhawks play host to the Nashville Predators.

Vermette, who was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes for a first-round draft pick and defensive prospect Klas Dahlbeck at the trade deadline, was a healthy scratch for the first two games in Nashville.

The 32-year-old had three assists and a minus-2 rating in 19 games with the Blackhawks following the trade.

Andrew Desjardins, who has yet to play in the series, could also return to the lineup tonight.

Desjardins had two assists in 13 games with the Blackhawks after being acquired from the San Jose Sharks prior to the trade deadline.

Report: Leafs granted permission to interview Coyotes’ Burke

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Brendan Shanahan’s search for a new front office executive in Toronto will include one of his former teammates.

Per TSN, Shanahan has received permission to interview Arizona goalie coach and assistant GM Sean Burke. The news comes just days after Shanahan cleaned house in Toronto, turfing GM Dave Nonis, the entire coaching staff and the majority of the Maple Leafs’ scouts.

Burke, friendly with Shanahan from their time together in New Jersey, is believed to be in high demand across the league, largely because of his versatility as a coach and executive. He’s has knowledge of and contacts throughout the NHL, having suited up for eight different organizations over a 19-year career, and is viewed as something of a “goalie whisperer” after reviving the careers of Ilya Bryzgalov, Mike Smith and Devan Dubnyk in the desert.

Burke has plenty of hockey operations experience as well. He’s worked under Coyotes GM Don Maloney since 2012 and recently served as part of Hockey Canada’s management team for the 2015 World Juniors.

Last month, Burke — in the final year of his deal with the Coyotes — confirmed he was granted permission to interview elsewhere and explore his managerial options.

“I wanted to manage from the moment I retired,” he said. “Coaching is good because it gives you an additional avenue of experience, being in that dressing room every day, but when you stay in that role too long, it becomes more difficult to get where you want to go.”