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Ovechkin's quest for 700 goals 'cool to watch,' Capitals teammates say

Forward eight from milestone, returns against Predators after suspension for missing All-Star Game

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin is ready to resume his pursuit of history, and the Washington Capitals are looking forward to the ride.

Ovechkin will be back in the Capitals lineup when they host the Nashville Predators in a "Wednesday Night Hockey" matchup at Capital One Arena (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN) after he was suspended for their 4-2 win at the Montreal Canadiens on Monday for sitting out the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis on Saturday.

The 34-year-old left wing returns to action tied with Steve Yzerman for ninth in NHL history with 692 goals, two behind Mark Messier for eighth and eight away from becoming the eighth player to reach 700. The Capitals are eager to see Ovechkin join Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708) in the 700-goal club.

"He's probably one of the greatest to ever play and will go down as that, and it's pretty cool to have a front-row seat to watching that go down," linemate Tom Wilson said. "It seems like he hits a milestone every couple games, but they don't make them like they made him anymore. There's no other player like him and I don't think there will ever be, so it's pretty cool to watch it unveil and watch him continue to dominate."

Video: Wilson discusses Mexico trip, Ovechkin, play style

In his 15th NHL season, Ovechkin is third in the League with 34 goals, one behind Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and three behind David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins. Ovechkin is six goals away from joining Gretzky as the only players in NHL history with 11 or more 40-goal seasons. Gretzky scored 40 or more goals 12 times during his 20 NHL seasons with the Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers from 1979-99.

Ovechkin has eight goals in his past three games, including consecutive hat tricks against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 16 and the New York Islanders on Jan. 18, to move past Teemu Selanne (684 goals) and Mario Lemieux (690), and tie Yzerman.

That's created the feeling in the Capitals locker room lately that Ovechkin is passing a different legend almost every time he plays.

"As he continues to go by these Hall of Famers and superstars in our sport, it always garners some interest and discussion of, 'Wow, that's a pretty big name today that he just moved past,'" Washington coach Todd Reirden said. "It's not something we talk about before that, 'If he gets two tonight, then he'll be …' That's not something we go into the game talking about. It's something we talk about more after the game. 

"I think the guys know where he's at, so we're collecting pucks and doing those type of things. But it's something that certainly allows you to enjoy what we're seeing right in front of our eyes, and I think that's something that's special."

The Capitals have grown used to seeing Ovechkin reach major milestones and, though he's getting older, they seem to be coming faster. After taking 190 games to go from his 500th goal against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 10, 2016, to his 600th goal against the Winnipeg Jets on March 12, 2018, he's gone from 600 to 692 in 143 games.

Video: WSH@NYI: Ovechkin collects hat trick vs. Islanders

Gretzky is the lone player who needed fewer than 200 games to go from 600 goals to 700, doing it in 169. Ovechkin needs eight goals in his next 25 games to surpass that record.

For the Capitals, the faster he gets to 700, the better.

"I imagine he will be getting lots of pucks, lots of chances to score goals, but it's exciting to be around and be on the team and be able to witness something like a guy scoring his 700th goal," forward T.J. Oshie said. "A lot of us are pretty fortunate and pretty lucky that we're able to witness some of the stuff that people are going to be talking about for a long time."

There's a growing belief that Ovechkin might be able to break Gretzky's NHL record of 894 goals. Gretzky said last week that Ovechkin has a legitmate chance of doing it. 

But Ovechkin's focus remains on the Capitals' success. After leading Washington to its first Stanley Cup championship in 2018, he's hungry for another title. The Capitals (34-11-5) lead the NHL with 73 points and appear primed to make another Cup run.

Teammates say that's on Ovechkin's mind far more than joining the 700-goal club.

"That's pretty big, for sure, but inside the locker room he never talks about it," center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. "That's one of the good things about him. Even if he reaches some of those milestones, he's never thinking about this. I'm pretty sure he's focused on only one milestone that he wants to get and that's the next Cup. I don't think he even worries about Gretzky. He just worries about to get in the playoffs and perform there.

"He's going to get the record easily, I think, the Gretzky record. But to get another Cup, it's not that easy, and you're always focusing on the hardest things."

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