Ovechkin feeling lucky about chance to pass Howe for goals with one team

ARLINGTON, Va. — Alex Ovechkin potentially has other milestones in his future that will garner more attention, but the one on the Washington Capitals left wing’s immediate horizon has particular significance.

With 784 goals during his 18 seasons with the Capitals heading into their game at the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, TVAS, BSSO, NBCSWA+, SN NOW), Ovechkin needs three more to break Gordie Howe’s record for most with one NHL team (786). 

“I’m always saying to stay on one team for all of my career is my goal,” Ovechkin said. “Obviously, I’m lucky enough to be able to do that kind of stuff, so it’s pretty cool.”

Ovechkin, selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, said he wasn’t aware of the record until being told about it recently. There has been more focus on the 37-year-old’s pursuit of becoming the third player to score 800 goals, passing Howe (801) for second in NHL history and eventually chasing down Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894.

But it’s seemed to be a matter of time before Ovechkin broke Howe’s record for most goals with one team since he passed on a chance to explore unrestricted free agency to sign a five-year, $47.5 million contract to remain with the Capitals on July 27, 2021. At the time, he was already second in goals with one team with 730 after passing Mario Lemieux (690 for the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Steve Yzerman (692 for the Detroit Red Wings) during the 2019-20 season.

Howe, who died June 10, 2016, scored 786 goals in 1,687 regular-season games during 25 seasons with the Red Wings (1946-1971). He retired for two years before returning to play in the World Hockey Association for six seasons with the Houston Aeros (1973-1977) and New England Whalers (1977-79). After the Hartford Whalers were absorbed into the NHL as part of its 1979 expansion, Howe scored 15 goals in 1979-80 to complete his final NHL total.

Ovechkin scored 50 goals last season, tying the NHL record of nine with at least 50, and has four goals in nine games this season to reach 784 in 1,283 games.

Video: WSH@NJD: Ovechkin rips home PPG to extend lead

“It’s kind of hard to realize that when he’s still playing,” Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “We talk about it sometimes a little bit and he doesn’t really understand what he’s doing probably because, when you’re playing this amount of games, you have that energy and you’re really excited and that’s what you’re chasing always. You don’t chase the goals. You’re chasing that feeling.” 

Ovechkin has never hidden his excitement about scoring goals and his commitment to doing it with Washington. He had yet to play three seasons with the Capitals when he signed a 13-year, $124 million contract Jan. 10, 2008. 

“I feel happy, I feel comfortable in the organization,” Ovechkin said. “I have lots of friends here. It’s pretty cool.”

Leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy voted as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2018 was the pinnacle for Ovechkin, but he also takes pride in reaching these milestones with the Capitals. He acknowledged that was a factor in the term on his contract when he re-signed, saying, “That’s why I want to play five more years. To have a chance to catch the Great One, why not?”

“It speaks a lot about the character of the person, I think,” said defenseman Drew Doughty, who has played all 15 of his NHL seasons for the Los Angeles Kings. “Obviously, a lot of guys would love to do it, but just can’t because of business, but when you’re a good enough player you can easily just jump ship and go wherever you want, basically. But he wanted to stay because he loves it here, obviously, and it shows a lot to his character.”

That hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.

“It’s partly attributed to him and who he is as a guy and as a player, and also the Caps for realizing how special he was and continually locking him up and keeping him happy and putting a good team around him,” Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie said. “There definitely is a sense of pride in that and it’s good to see as his teammate that he has a pride in staying here. 

“He’ll be Mr. Capital forever, so it’s just really cool to be a part of all of his history and the Capitals’ history.”

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