Alex Ovechkin continued his statistical dominance and reached a career milestone Friday when he calmly slid the puck into an empty net to seal a 4-2 victory for the Washington Capitals against the Carolina Hurricanes.
It was the 400th goal of Ovechkin's NHL career in his 634th game, making him the sixth-fastest in League history to reach the plateau. He has 29 goals in 33 games to lead the NHL this season.
His 400 goals are 91 more than any player in the League has scored since he joined the Capitals at the start of the 2005-06 season, and 112 more than any active NHL player in that span.
"I didn't feel like I would be in this position when I started playing in the NHL," Ovechkin told reporters after the game Friday. "Of course I wanted to be, but thanks goes to my coaches and [teammates]. Without them, I can't reach those numbers."
Ovechkin has proven to be one of the League's greatest goal scorers in any era, but especially in recent NHL history. He is fifth in League history in goals per game, with Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux and two pre-World War II players in front of him.
The Capitals' star is the 12th player to reach 400 goals before the conclusion of his age-28 season (he turned 28 years old in September). Given that Ovechkin is on pace for 70 goals this season, he would tie Jari Kurri for fifth-most in League history at the end of an age-28 season with 41 more.
"There's really only one guy I played with or saw that had some of the skills he does, and that was Brett Hull, in terms of shooting from anywhere and being able to score from anywhere," Washington coach Adam Oates said. "But he adds a dimension with his physicality. He's a huge man out there, and opponents have to be so leery of him."
Hull's time as a goal-scoring phenom began later than normal because he spent two years in college and one in the American Hockey League. He also spent parts of two seasons as a role player with the Calgary Flames before his career took off with the St. Louis Blues.
Hull is fourth all-time in goals scored from his age-29 season on with 385, behind Gordie Howe, Phil Esposito and Johnny Bucyk. Howe, Esposito and Bucyk played in a different era, but the second half of Hull's career could be a blueprint for Ovechkin to follow. Hull scored 57 as a 28-year-old, 54 at 29 and remained an elite goal scorer into his late 30s.
Ovechkin's dominance might be hard to place in a historical context because of the changes to the game, including goaltending equipment and development, and the increase of defensive systems and defense-first play. His dominance since he joined the Capitals is easy to contextualize.
The Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophy has been around since 1998-99. Ovechkin is the only player to win it three times, and he could claim it a fourth time in nine NHL seasons in 2013-14.
He has 61 goals since the start of the 2012-13 season, which is 17 more than the next guy, Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane. To put that in perspective, Kane has 17 more than the seven who are tied for 33rd place on that list.
Ovechkin has been the League's dominant force on the power play, scoring 139 extra-man goals in his career. That's 27 more than anyone else in that span.
The most amazing part of Ovechkin's resume might be the shots on goal. A player has produced at least 367 shots on goal 40 times in NHL history, and Ovechkin is the only player with six such seasons, one more than noted gunners Hull and Esposito.
Ovechkin has the third-most shots on goal in the NHL since the start of the 1998-99 season, and he didn't play in the first six seasons of that stretch. His 3,222 shots since 2005-06 is nearly 900 more than anyone else and 1,010 more than Jarome Iginla, who has the most since 1998-99.
Unless Ovechkin challenges Esposito's NHL record of 550 shots on goal in one season, that's not a statistic that typically resonates with the average fan. Goals do, obviously, and reaching No. 400 this early is another major milestone en route to a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame when his career is over.
"Of course you think about [400 goals]," Ovechkin said. "You talk to the guys, your friends and teammates, it's kind of a big number."
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