Ovechkin begins final step to break Gretzky’s record

“Now is the time to set new goals for No. 99,” Howe said on behalf of the Howe family.

The Washington Capitals forward scored his 801st and 802nd NHL goals in Friday’s 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets, leveling and surpassing Gordie Howe. While that was the end of one journey through history, it was also the beginning of another toward the No. 99, Wayne Gretzky and his reign as the NHL’s 894-goal record holder.

Video: [email protected]: Ovechkin’s 2-goal game makes history

However, Ovechkin approaches the matter with his usual caution.

“Step by step folks,” he said. “There’s still a long way to go.”

“Step by step” is Ovechkin’s simple but apt mantra during his relentless climb to a record he and many others believed would never be broken. The final move, which begins Tuesday when Ovechkin and the Capitals meet Gretzky’s final team, the New York Rangers, at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, MSG 2, NBCSWA+, ESPN+, SN NOW) could prove to be proving the most difficult.

Video: A montage of Ovechkin’s 800 NHL goals

Though Ovechkin has been remarkably consistent throughout his 18 NHL seasons, playing in 1,310 of a possible 1,357 regular-season games for Washington, he’s 37 years old. At some point father time will catch up with him, like everyone else.

But it’s not that far yet.

The left winger has scored 22 goals in his first 36 games of the season, putting him on track to reach 50. It would be his tenth NHL season with 50 goals, breaking the league record he shares with Gretzky and Mike Bossy. He scored 50 goals last season, becoming the oldest player in NHL history to reach that mark.

So, for Ovechkin to score the 93 goals he needs to surpass Gretzky doesn’t seem far-fetched.

“When you see what Alex does every day, I think anything is possible,” said Capitals coach Peter Laviolette. “The way he plays, the way he scores, the way he shoots the puck, his love of the game, his passion and commitment to the game – anything is possible. It’s going to take a lot, but I think they picked the right man to try and break the record.”

Gretzky has held the record since scoring 802 goals against Vancouver Canucks goaltender Kirk McLean for the Los Angeles Kings on March 23, 1994. In the following five seasons, he scored 92 more goals for the Kings, St. Louis Blues and Rangers , before retiring in 1999.

According to NHL Stats, Ovechkin is averaging 0.61 goals per game this season, the same as he has been in the last ten seasons. At this rate, it will take him 153 regular-season games to score 895 goals. That puts him on schedule to overtake Gretzky about halfway through the 2024-25 season.

[Ähnliches Kann Ovechkin der erste Torschütze mit 900 NHL-Treffern werden?]

“That was the best record ever,” said Kings president and Hockey Hall of Fame forward Luc Robitaille, who ranks 13th in league history with 668 goals and assisted on Gretzky’s 802nd goal.

“I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be broken at the time. Just as I don’t think anyone thought Wayne’s record was going to be broken. … But a few years ago I started watching Alex, and then you think, ‘Well, if he doesn’t get injured, he’s the one who could break that one record, one of Wayne’s 60+ records.'”

Ron Francis is the second-best assist provider in NHL history with 1,249 assists but never matched Gretzky’s record 1,963 assists before retiring in 2005. Francis, now general manager of the Seattle Kraken, also didn’t think anyone would match Gretzky’s goal record at the time, but the forward, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, noted that there was a similar view after Gordie Howe before increased the record to 801 goals when he retired in 1980.

“There’s always someone coming,” Francis said. “For example, no one thought Wayne was coming, and then Wayne comes. Ovi has had an incredible career because he’s scored so many goals. It seems like everyone knows where he’s going to be, but you still can’t see him so I congratulate him on what he’s doing and he has a good chance of breaking the record.”

Since observing Ovechkin as a longtime scout for the Detroit Red Wings and meeting with him three times in the past two months, Mark Howe does not think of Ovechkin as a player who will settle for second place. Howe, himself a defenseman inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, told Ovechkin when they sat down in Philadelphia in early December that he expects to overtake Gretzky, too.

“I said, ‘I’m counting on you to make it,'” Howe said. “If I were to bet, I’d bet he would catch Wayne.”

Robitaille believes Ovechkin’s pursuit of Gretzky’s record “is the greatest thing that can happen to this sport.”

“It gets the attention of the fans,” said Robitaille. “It’s incredible. I think it’s amazing what he’s done and I really believe he’s going to do it.”

Patrick Kaneforward for the Chicago Blackhawks, doesn’t think Ovechkin will stop at 895 or even 900 goals.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes on for four or five more years, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits 1,000 to be honest,” Kane said. “He’s had an incredible career and he keeps making it.

Ovechkin’s teammates at the Capitals have grown accustomed to him hitting some milestone in almost every game, but he’s taken it to a new level in the past two weeks. He hit 800 goals with a hat-trick against the Blackhawks on December 13. After a four-game losing streak, he drew level with and passed Gordie Howe against the Jets on Friday. he scored his 801st goal in the first period against David Rittichbefore hitting the 802nd with an empty netter a minute from time.

Video: [email protected]: Ovechkin scores 3 times against Blackhawks

It will be even more exciting when Ovechkin is very close to Gretzky in potentially two years.

“He’s done it so many times that maybe we’re a little jaded at how historical and I would almost say unthinkable that is,” said the Capitals defender John Carlson Beginning of the month. “Seven or eight years ago nobody was talking about it, although it was clearly on the same path as it is now. Then it went from ‘Maybe he can’ to ‘Holy strawbag! That’s going to happen.'”

[Ähnliches Ovechkin hat sich einen Platz in der Hockey-Geschichte gesichert]

NHL.com writer Tracey Myers contributed to this article.

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