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Ovechkin tries for 700th goal again, wants win for Capitals

Forward, who is two away from milestone, 'focusing on the two points' against Avalanche

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

DENVER -- Alex Ovechkin is trying not to think about how close he is to scoring his 700th NHL goal.

So heading into the Washington Capitals' game against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, EPSN+, SN360, SNE, SNP, ALT, NBCSWA, NHL.TV), Ovechkin's motivation is to help them rebound after losing their past two games and not the two goals he needs to reach the milestone.

"Right now, we're focusing on the two points," Ovechkin said after the Capitals morning skate. "If it happens, it happens. If not, we're just going to move forward."

Ovechkin, who has 698 goals in 1,139 regular-season games over 15 seasons, is seeking to become the eighth player in NHL history to score 700 goals, joining Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708). Before being held without a point in the past two games, the 34-year-old forward was on a remarkable run scoring 14 goals in seven games to pass Teemu Selanne (684), Mario Lemieux (690), Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694) to climb from 12th to eighth on the NHL's all-time list.

Video: LAK@WSH: Ovechkin earns natural hat trick in win

Passing each Hockey Hall of Famer brought more questions about his 700th goal and more media attention, so it's understandable if Ovechkin is tired of talking about it.

"I think this one with him going through and bypassing some of the superstars he has in the League just with his most recent goals, this has taken on a lot more media attention and social media as well," Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. "So it's something that he's always done an amazing job of dealing with, but for us it's about trying to get our team game going and if our team game is where it should be then he's going to benefit and get plenty of chances offensively. 

"That's our focus tonight, to get our team game in order and as a byproduct, as it has been for many years, he always has found ways to score goals."

Ovechkin's teammates say his chase for 700 hasn't been a big topic of conversation among them unless it's brought up by the media. But being asked about it every day could weigh on Ovechkin eventually. 

"I can see that," longtime linemate Nicklas Backstrom said. "He gets a lot of questions about it, but in here we don't talk about it that much. When it happens, it happens. It can happen in one game. It can happen in two games. We don't really care as long as we get the 'W', that's all that matters."

Ovechkin would be the first player to score 700 NHL goals since Jagr got his 700th while playing for the New Jersey Devils against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on March 1, 2014. Ovechkin hoped to score his 700th at Capital One Arena so the Capitals fans could share in the celebration but was unable to do it in home losses to the Philadelphia Flyers (7-2) on Saturday and the Islanders (5-3) on Monday. 

Video: WSH@NYI: Ovi passes Lemieux, ties Yzerman with hatty

He will look to get the two goals he needs during Washington's three-game road trip, which continues at the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday and the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.

With 40 goals this season, Ovechkin is tied with Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs for second in the NHL, one behind David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins. Pastrnak passed Ovechkin and Matthews by scoring three goals in a 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.

Backstrom, who has assisted on 259 of Ovechkin's goals, said he doesn't think the Capitals have been forcing the puck to Ovechkin the past two games to try to get him to 700. Having played with him for 13 seasons, Backstrom knows the goals will come if the Capitals play the right way and let Ovechkin do what he does best.

"I think the type of player he is, he just finds open ice," Backstrom said. "That's just the way it is, so eventually it will come."

Ovechkin will try to do it Thursday against a familiar face in former Capitals backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, who will start for the Avalanche. Grubauer, who played six seasons in Washington from 2012-18, including winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, made 34 saves to get his second shutout of the season in a 3-0 win against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday that extended Colorado's winning streak to five. 

Grubauer, who is 4-0-0 with a 0.75 goals-against average and .974 save percentage in his past four starts, would prefer to see Ovechkin, who has two goals in two games against him, score No. 700 against another goalie and another team.

"I don't want to be part of that," Grubauer said. "It would nice to watch it on TV instead of being on the ice, but it's good for him. There's a reason why he's scored that many goals and we'll be trying our best today to keep him off 
the scoresheet."

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