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Ovechkin closes in on Gartner for seventh on NHL goals list for Capitals

Forward three from tying Hall of Famer with 708

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Just when you thought Alex Ovechkin was done chasing milestones for a while, the Washington Capitals forward is closing in on passing Mike Gartner for seventh place in NHL history in goals.

With 705 goals in 1,151 regular-season games in 15 NHL seasons, Ovechkin heads into the Capitals' game against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on Monday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, TVAS, MSG-B, NBCSWA, NHL.TV) three behind Gartner.

A 2001 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Gartner scored 708 goals in 1,432 regular-season games over 19 NHL seasons, including his first 10 with Washington, before retiring in 1998. The 60-year-old was excited to see Ovechkin, who was selected by the Capitals with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, become the eighth player in League history with 700 goals when he reached the milestone against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 22.

Ovechkin joined Gartner, Phil Esposito (717 goals), Marcel Dionne (731), Brett Hull (741), Jaromir Jagr (766) Gordie Howe (801) and Wayne Gretzky (894) in the 700-goal club.

"When he was coming up on this, I thought, 'Wow, that's very cool for Capitals fans and for the Washington Capitals organization to have two players in that club,' Gartner said. "I congratulate Alex as he's coming, and I congratulate him early as he passes me pretty quickly on his way up to that 800-goal spot."

Video: WSH@NYR: Ovechkin cleans up rebound to tie the game

Ovechkin has 47 goals, trailing David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins by one for the NHL lead. This season, he has passed Luc Robitaille (668), Teemu Selanne (684), Mario Lemieux (690), Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694) to climb from 13th to eighth in goals. Gartner expects the 34-year-old to fly past him soon too.

"My guess is he's going by me this year," said Gartner, who also played for the Minnesota North Stars, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Arizona Coyotes. "I think that's going to happen, and good on him."

Assuming Ovechkin gets his 708th goal this season, he would also reach 50 goals in a season for the ninth time. That would tie Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons in NHL history.

It would be Ovechkin's fifth 50-goal season since 2013-14. Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers, who scored 50 last season, is the only other player with a 50-goal season since 2013-14. 

This season, four players are on pace to reach 50: Ovechkin, Pastrnak, Auston Matthews of the Maple Leafs, who has 46, and Draisaitl, who has 43. When Gartner set his NHL career high with 50 goals in 1984-85 with Washington, he was one of nine players to reach that number that season, including Gretzky and Bossy.

"There were a handful of guys back when we were playing that were scoring over 50 goals," Gartner said. "But it's more unusual for a guy in Alex's era to be scoring that number of goals. So in some ways it's been remarkable that he's had that many so far. I don't know if anyone would've thought that could happen."

Video: Mike Gartner had 17 seasons with 30-plus goals

Gartner attributes Ovechkin's sustained production to several factors. One is that the Capitals (41-20-7), who are tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for first place in the Metropolitan Division and seeking their fifth straight division title, remain one the NHL's top teams, giving Ovechkin ample opportunity for success.

Another is his durability. Ovechkin has missed only 31 games in his career, including 17 because of injury.

"I think he's averaged over 75 games year and, in some cases, he's played the full 82 games," Gartner said. "So he's playing a lot of games."

Gartner also points to the volume of shots Ovechkin takes. He's led the NHL in shots on goal 11 times, has topped 300 shots 14 times, and is second this season with 305 (behind Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, who has 311).

"That's a very important stat. It has always been an important stat," Gartner said. "Every year that I played, it was one of the goals that I had. My goal wasn't to score a whole bunch of goals. My goal was to get a lot of shots. I figured if I got at least 300 shots on goal in the course of the year and I have a very average 15 percent shooting percentage, that's 45 goals, and I'm OK with that.

"So as long as he stays healthy, continues to shoot the puck, as long as he continues to keep playing on a good team, and the Caps are a good team, he's going to be in that position where he's playing with a lot of good players, he's going to keep scoring goals."

That's why Gartner, like Gretzky, believes Ovechkin can break Gretzky's NHL record of 894 goals. 

"Yeah, he does have a chance," Gartner said. "Without a doubt, Alex has all of the tools to make that happen. Some guys you say, 'That guy is scoring a lot of goals, but he is going to slow down.' And Alex is going to slow down too. But all of those things that I just talked about gives him the ability that it's a possibility."

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