Alexander Ovechkin, the 'GR8 One'

Alexander Ovechkin, the 'GR8 One'

A look back at some highlights in the Washington Capitals star's career as he chases Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky

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Alexander Ovechkin is the best pure goal-scorer in NHL history. That’s not up for debate. The longtime Washington Capital hasn’t been hockey’s best player for years, but his ability to put the puck in the back of the net is nearly as good as it was 15 years ago when he scored 65 goals during the 2007-08 season. The Great 8’s next goal will tie him for second place all-time with Gordie Howe at 801 career goals. Then starts the long journey to Wayne Gretzky.

After Ovechkin’s hat trick against Chicago this week, it appears a matter of when, not if, he’ll break the NHL’s all-time goals record of 894. Though it’s a few years away, Ovechkin’s spot in Washington’s core lineup won’t go away and he’s rarely been the lone star player on the team. Nicklas Backstrom has low-key built a Hall of Fame resume as Ovechkin’s career-long linemate and he’ll be around for a few more years too. And who can consistently stop Ovechkin’s power-play one-timer from the top of the left faceoff circle? Goaltenders know it’s coming and can’t handle it. And how much closer to Gretzky’s record would Ovechkin be if not for two lockouts and a pandemic that cost the Russian great about two seasons of ice time? We’ll look here at the moments that have shaped one of the best to ever lace up a pair of skates.

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The Goal”

The Goal”

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Ovechkin’s presence in the NHL didn’t take long to reach all of North America. He was the slam-dunk first-overall pick of the 2004 NHL Draft, but didn’t play in the league until the fall of 2005 thanks to a lockout. Nearly 30 games into his American professional career, Ovechkin scored a goal against the Coyotes that can’t be recreated. Skating full speed and falling around a defender, he maintained control of the puck. And from his back, Ovechkin didn’t lose sense of where the net was and shuffled the puck into an open net.

It’s been replayed thousands of times and defies what normal humans can do. The goal was so impressive the Phoenix’s coach at the time had to look at the scoreboard to see how the rubber crossed the goal line instead of organizing his team for the next faceoff. Did I forget to mention Gretzky was coaching the Coyotes? Yup, The Great One gave an early seal of approval to the man that’ll eventually break his all-time goal-scoring record.

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Rivalry with Sidney Crosby

Rivalry with Sidney Crosby

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The No. 1 pick in the 2005 NHL Draft (pictured, left) made his league debut at the same time as Ovechkin, for the Capitals’ biggest rival. Crosby’s career will always be linked with Ovechkin the same way Magic Johnson and Larry Bird share a sentence. Truthfully, the Laker and Celtic legends aren’t as strong of an example as Crosby and Ovechkin. The best way to know how good the two best hockey players of their generation are? Ask the rival fan base about the opposite camp’s star. Nothing triggers Pittsburgh fans like name-dropping Ovechkin. Capitals fans believe Crosby is the NHL’s Tom Brady with how much he complains and officials acquiesce to his demands.

Being a sports-dominant duo and playing for rival teams elevated both stars. Whether there’s a real, off-ice personal feud between the two is unlikely. That’s more for Ovechkin with Crosby’s teammate and fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin. Both are first-ballot Hall of Famers and both have won MVP awards and at least one Stanley Cup. Who’s better? That’ll be debated forever. The only people who are wrong are the ones that believe one is decisively better than the other. Crosby and Ovechkin play two incredibly different styles. No one compares LeBron James to Nikola Jokic. 

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Tons of playoff disappointment

Tons of playoff disappointment

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For a long time, the biggest knock on Ovechkin was how despite how spectacular his individual play was, he hadn’t led Washington to much playoff success. In the present day, the Capitals have made it past the second round of the playoffs with him once. More on that outlier in the next slide. How much of the blame does Ovechkin deserve for Washington’s postseason misfortunes? To be blunt, while George McPhee was the team’s general manager, which was until 2014 and Ovechkin’s first nine seasons, none. Since then, especially with Ovechkin’s overall play improving beyond goal-scoring, some.

This is a painful number for Capitals fans, but the team has failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs 13 times in Ovechkin’s tenure with the team. Washington is currently in a playoff spot, barely, with tons of key injuries. And it hasn’t won a playoff series since its one foray deep into the postseason (next slide). It’s a part of Ovechkin’s legacy that’d be irresponsible to leave out.

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Winning the 2018 Stanley Cup

Winning the 2018 Stanley Cup

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The Capitals lost the first two games in the first round to the Blue Jackets then won four straight to advance. The second-round clash with the Penguins went six games, but Washington clearly was the better team. The Caps sweat it out in the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay, but didn’t allow a goal for the series’ final eight periods and advanced. After losing the first game of the Stanley Cup Final to the Golden Knights, Washington won four straight to win the championship.

Ovechkin was amazing throughout the Capitals’ run to the Cup, taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy. Years’ worth of emotion came out of Washington’s veterans who promised for years to make things right and bring the Stanley Cup to Washington for the first time. And Ovechkin was at the forefront of that effort. If he gets blamed for playoff losses, he deserves every bit of praise for his effort in 2018.

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Don Cherry yells at cloud

Don Cherry yells at cloud

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One big difference between Ovechkin and Crosby is the new school versus the old school argument. To hockey purists, like analyst Don Cherry (pictured), Crosby was respectful and mature because he showed little personality. Ovechkin was, and still is, hockey’s ultimate rock star. He has lavish cars and celebrates milestone goals like they’re important. After scoring goal No. 50 in 2009, all Cherry could do is complain about Ovechkin not having class.

You know what’s classless? Hot takes from another country and not saying it to someone’s face. Ovechkin knows how good he is and if he wants to celebrate goals with what the other team views as unsportsmanlike conduct, there’s a set of rules in hockey for straightening those things out. It involves dropping the gloves and a penalty box.

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Pierre McGuire’s cold take

Pierre McGuire’s cold take

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Since Ovechkin’s third season in the league, Washington has missed the playoffs once. That was the year after the second lockout during Ovechkin’s time in the league. While the league had just resumed play in Jan. 2013, former hockey television analyst Pierre McGuire (pictured) confidently said Ovechkin would never score 50 goals in a season again after doing it four times in his career previously. Challenge accepted.

Ovechkin has achieved that feat five times since McGuire’s dumb utterance and scored 48 goals or more in seven seasons. Betting against Ovechkin’s goal-scoring place slowing down even as he approaches 40 is foolish. Don’t be like McGuire.

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The Capitals’ legend decking a Washington failure

The Capitals’ legend decking a Washington failure

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One of the most disappointing eras for the Capitals was Jaromir Jagr’s time as the team’s biggest star. After years of excellence with Pittsburgh, he joined rival Washington and stunk compared to his expectations. His stench was so bad, it led the Capitals to have the No. 1 overall pick in 2004 and essentially started the next era for his replacement. Jagr and Ovechkin rarely faced each other, but their most high-profile meeting didn’t happen in the NHL. It took place in the Olympics, competing for Russia and the Czech Republic respectively.

At center ice, Ovechkin absolutely lays out Jagr with a clean hit, leading to former Capitals teammate Alexander Semin getting the puck and passing it to an open Malkin for a goal, beating former NHL goaltender Tomas Vokoun. Jagr clearly also thought the hit was legal, not retaliating in any fashion.

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The accolades

The accolades

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The amount of NHL and Capitals records Ovechkin holds is insane. Starting with the most seasons with 50 or more goals, nine, which is the Capitals’ record and tied for most all-time with Gretzky and Mike Bossy. For Washington, the most power-play goals, which is also a league record, most power-play goals in a season (25), most career overtime goals, most rookie goals (52), most rookie points (106) and so much more.

Ovechkin is the first player to win the Hart Memorial Trophy, Maurice Richard Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, and Lester B. Pearson Award in the same season. He’s the only player in league history to be named an All-Star in each of his first five seasons in the NHL. He has the most league goals scored on the road and most by a left-wing in a season and career. And that’s just a few of his records.

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