ARLINGTON, Va. — Alex Ovechkin said he’s enjoying playing as much as ever and is looking forward to more fun in the second half of the Washington Capitals schedule.
The 36-year-old forward scored two goals in a 3-2 overtime win against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. He has scored 29 goals and 58 points, tied with New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider for the NHL lead in goals and with Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl for the lead in points. He had scored 56 points through the Capitals’ first 41 games.
The only player 36 or older to have more points at the midpoint of a season was Mario Lemieux, who, at age 37, scored 68 points (20 goals, 48 assists) through the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first 41 games in 2002-03.
“I guess I still have fun,” Ovechkin said Saturday prior to the game. “I think I still love the game. I’m enjoying being on the ice, off the ice, spending time with this group of guys. So I think that’s the most important thing.”
In his 17th NHL season, Ovechkin has shown no signs of slowing down and helped the Capitals (23-10-9) into a tie with the Penguins for third in the Metropolitan Division despite dealing with a myriad of injuries and players missing games in NHL COVID-19 protocol. That’s put him among the midseason favorites for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the player voted NHL most valuable player.
But Ovechkin, who won the Hart in 2007-08, 2008-09, and 2012-13, said he believes it’s too early to be thinking about awards.
“To be honest with you, I don’t pay attention to these conversations,” he said. “It’s just the middle of the season and it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen at the end of the season.”
Ovechkin is one goal from reaching 30 for the 16th time, which would move him one ahead of Jaromir Jagr for the second-most 30-goal seasons in NHL history, one behind Mike Gartner’s NHL record of 17.
A nine-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner as the top goal-scorer in the NHL, Ovechkin failed to score 30 goals for the first time in his NHL career last season when he scored 24 goals in 45 games in a reduced 56-game schedule because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Ovechkin missed an NHL career-high 11 games (four while in COVID-19 protocol and seven with a groin injury), causing some to wonder if he was beginning to slow down.
But Ovechkin has rebounded and is the only Capitals player not to miss a game this season.
“He started strong and the year he’s had to this point, I don’t think it should completely catch people off guard,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said Saturday before the game. “You’re talking about somebody who’s made a living at scoring goals and being a leader and helping this franchise and this organization maintain a level of really good play and experience a lot of successes. And he’s at the forefront of that.”
Ovechkin dealt with an upper-body injury that caused him to miss practice last week but was able to play through it. He has scored eight points (five goals, three assists) during a seven-game point streak.
“Right now, I feel much better,” Ovechkin said. “Obviously, those days when we have options (practices) and days off, it kind of helps not only me, but you see how many injuries we have, the bad situation with the COVID situation, it kind of helps us. So we still have an experienced group of guys who know how they have to control their body and that’s the most important thing.”
Through it all, Ovechkin continues to chase history. After passing Marcel Dionne (731) and Brett Hull (741) this season, he’s fourth in NHL history with 759 goals, behind Jagr (766), Gordie Howe (801), and Wayne Gretzky (894).
Laviolette said he believes having fun is one of the keys to Ovechkin’s continued success.
“He loves the game. He loves being part of the team,” Laviolette said. “He goes out and he practices hard every day, and never once do we come off and say, ‘Practice wasn’t good enough or ‘He’s the leader. He needs to set the tone.’ He practices hard every day. He loves the game and he certainly shows it in the game. It’s visible. He loves winning, he loves scoring goals, he loves making a difference and that’s awesome. When you get somebody that can exude that passion, that’s pretty special.”