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How many goals will Alex Ovechkin end up with?
Every game Alex Ovechkin seems to either reach a new milestone or create his own place in NHL history.
Over the weekend he became the only NHL player to record 30 or more goals in every season since his rookie year of 2005-06. He's already one of just six players in NHL history to score 30 or more goals in his first nine seasons, joining Mike Bossy, Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Bryan Trottier.
Ovechkin is also on a personal quest to become the eighth player in NHL history to score 50 goals in 50 games, a feat accomplished by only Maurice Richard, Bossy, Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Alexander Mogilny and Cam Neely.
If he retired today, Ovechkin would be a hands-down, no-questions-asked, first-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer.
But how many goals will Ovechkin have when he finally hangs up those skates?
For that matter, how many will he score this year?
"When you think about it, he's 28 years old and he's at 400 [actually, 401]," said Caps forward Brooks Laich, whose first full season in the NHL was Ovechkin's rookie year. "I mean, by the time he's 30 he's at 500.
"It's incredible. The numbers are just staggering. It's unbelievable. It just seems now that every time we play a game he's going to score a goal. It's a fascinating feat. Not only that, it's the way he scores them – forehand, backhand, rebounds, tips. He obviously has the incredible shot, but the guy's a treat to watch every day. He's a special player."
Special enough to score 70 goals this season?
With 30 goals in 34 games, this is the fastest Ovechkin has ever gotten to 30. In 2007-08 he scored his 30th in his 39th game and finished with a career-high 65 that season. This year he's on pace for 71, the most by any NHL player since 1992-93 when Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne each netted 76.
Scoring 70 goals in year when he is being asked to carry Russia to Olympic gold would be a monumental feat. The fact it's even discussed is a testament to the re-invention of one of the NHL's most prolific goal scorers.
Three seasons ago Ovechkin was one of the NHL's most predictable shooters. Opposing defensemen learned his tendencies and got their sticks in the way of many of Ovechkin's shot attempts.
As a result, Ovechkin led the NHL in shots blocked and shots that missed the net and had a career-worst shooting percentage of 8.7 percent.
This season he's scoring on 16.9 percent of his shots, a career high.
"I think if you saw a shot tracker of his opportunities before, it would be very one-sided, from certain spots," Laich said. "Now, I think it would be scattered all across the ice. He's evolved as a goal scorer. He's changed. Before he might have had some tendencies and now you don't know where he's going to be."
Flyers coach Craig Berube said one thing has remained a constant for Ovechkin whether he scores or not, and that's his physical dominance.
"He's tough to contain," Berube said. "He's a great player, a great scorer. You always have your hands full when you play against him. He's a competitive hockey player and he seems to get his opportunities no matter what. You can have your best checkers out there against him and he still finds a way to get that puck to the net."
Laich said there is something else he's noticed about the way Ovechkin is scoring this season – the number of players who are feeding him the puck.
"Look at the night he scored four goals [Dec 10 against the Lightning]," Laich said. "There were four different players who had primary assists on those goals. It's also the evolution of some of the other players -- Marcus Johansson, John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. Earlier on, it was maybe just Nicky getting [the assists] and now you're seeing the evolution of the other players."
In his past two games, Ovechkin has faced a pair of players – Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne – who are closing in on 700 NHL goals.
Could he get there as well? If so, when?
Ovechkin has seven seasons remaining on his contract, which is due to expire when he is 35 years old. Assuming Ovechkin finishes with 60 goals this season, he would need to average 38 goals a season over the next seven years to get to 700.
"I still have time," Ovechkin said with a grin, "to catch up to them."
By Tom Harris
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