“It’s very emotional,” Ovechkin said. “My parents watched it from home. My wife is here, kids here, friends. To do it with the home crowd, it’s special. They give me full support, and this is pretty big. It’s a historic moment. It’s nice to be in this category of player. It’s pretty cool.”
The only name above Ovechkin now is that of “The Great One” – Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals, once thought unattainable, are at the top of the mountain. And given that the 37-year-old Ovechkin’s scoring rate has barely slowed as he’s aged, it’s likely a matter of when — not if — No. 8 surpasses the legendary No. 99.
“It’s just crazy to see, and it’s a big number, and it’s a big accomplishment for his game, for his person and for his family as well,” longtime Capitals teammate Dmitry Orlov said. “The way he’s going now, it’s really amazing, and you hope he’ll stay healthy – and another day, another milestone.”
Ovechkin’s no-look, empty-net goal came in a slightly comical way. After the Jets pulled their goalie, David Rittich, with just under three minutes left in regulation, the home crowd chanted Ovechkin’s name. The crowd was willing Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette to put Ovechkin on the ice for an empty-netter attempt — and the chants only got louder as the clock ticked down.
Ovechkin came on the ice with 1:42 left in the game and had a long shot attempt at an empty goal that hit the post and clanked out. Moments later, with the Capitals in the offensive zone and the open net in front of him, Ovechkin passed it to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who quickly decided he didn’t want to shoot and instead handed it back to Ovechkin.
After this goal, only another person in history has scored more NHL goals than Alex Ovechkin.
Take a minute. Remember this. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/8U5nzxNeaV
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) December 24, 2022
Laviolette said afterward that he and Ovechkin had a conversation before the game and decided that he would give Ovechkin normal minutes if any empty-netters emerged.
“It’s the kind of situation where if you have a chance to take it, you take it,” Ovechkin said. “I give it to Kuzy, and he says, ‘I don’t want to take it.’ But after that, it’s special.”
Kuznetsov said: “I’ll probably feel bad if I score over there and half the world will probably be so mad at me. You know, I have a lot of haters … the reputation, whatever.”
Howe died in 2016 at 88. Ovechkin met him at the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal. An autographed photo of Ovechkin and Howe together in the locker room remains Ovechkin’s “best thing” in his collection, he said.
“Obviously, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky’s stick, Mario Lemieux’s stick – [the photo is] probably the top one, he said.
Alex Ovechkin met Gordie Howe during the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal. No. 8 has a signed photo of him and Gordie from that moment.
He called the picture “probably my best thing in my collection.” pic.twitter.com/3hvzBBppWw
— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) December 19, 2022
On hand for Nos. 801 and 802 were Ovechkin’s wife, Nastya, and two sons, Sergei, 4, and Ilya, 2. All have been present during Washington’s last three home games, when Ovechkin had his chances to catch Howe but couldn’t light the lamp.
On Friday, with all eyes on him, Ovechkin made sure he put on a show. Sergei and Ilya both went to the Capitals locker room after the game and posed for pictures while holding up their father’s historic No. 801 and No. 802 pucks.
“You never thought it would happen when you came into the league, you’re going to break every Gordie Howe record or Wayne Gretzky record or any record,” Ovechkin said. “You felt like, OK, maybe you’re going to play in the NHL, you’re going to be good and you’re going to try to do your best — but the whole situation that’s happening right now, it’s a miracle. You know, it’s pretty special. “
Ovechkin’s first goal Friday tied Howe’s record 18:22 into the first period and gave Washington a 1-0 lead. His wrist shot from the circle went past Rittich, the 166th goalie Ovechkin has scored on in his remarkable career.
Then the chase was on for a second.
“When you see what Alex does on a daily basis, I think anything is possible,” Laviolette said. “The way he plays. The way he scores. The way he shoots the puck. His love for the game. His passion and purpose for the game. Anything is possible.”
Ovechkin has scored nine goals in his last nine games. For the season, he has scored 22 goals in 36 games – a pace of 50 goals. The Capitals struggled to start the year, but the captain has helped his injury-ravaged team stay afloat.
“He’s on pace again for another great year,” Laviolette said. “He’s in great shape. He obviously has tremendous ability and talent to do what he does. He loves the game. He has a passion and a purpose when he takes the ice. I think all those things combined and the fact that he’s been able to play in a lot of games, that all adds up to having the ability to play consistently.”
Teammates have long praised Ovechkin’s abilities, but as he ticked off one legend after another during his march up the scoring charts, appreciation reached a new level.
“Seven or eight years ago, nobody was even talking about it, even though he was obviously on the same trajectory as he is now,” defenseman John Carlson said this month. “It went from, ‘Maybe, like,’ to, ‘Holy shit, this is going to come around pretty soon.’ … You get to play with a guy for 13 years who has beaten these guys in the history books, and that’s pretty cool stuff.”
With No. 802 behind him, Ovechkin can take a moment to breathe. But the expectations don’t stop at No. 2.
“Everybody’s waiting for the Gretzky record, and it’s not going to be easy,” Orlov said. “Everybody knows that, and so does he. It’s a lot of work and sometimes luck too. It’s a long way to go.”
Added forward Anthony Mantha: “I think once he becomes number one, he can have a sense of relief. Until then, he’s in the hunt – and that’s what we love about him.”
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