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Analyzing Ovechkin's greatness as goal marks near

by Dan Rosen /

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is on the verge of reaching two milestones that have seemed inevitable since he burst onto the NHL scene with a dominant 52-goal showing as a rookie a decade ago.

Ovechkin has tied the record for most goals scored by a Russian in the NHL and will break the mark he shares with Sergei Fedorov with his next goal. Ovechkin's first chance to break the record arrives Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Sergei Fedorov Night (7:30 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, CSN-DC+, FS-D).

Ovechkin has 483 goals in 772 games. Fedorov scored his record total in 1,248 games.

Alex Ovechkin
Alex OvechkiN - CAREER
Left Wing - WSH
G: 483 | A: 428 | P: 911
SOG: 3,892 | +/-: 65
Ovechkin is also 17 goals away from becoming a member of the 500-goal club. There are 42 players in NHL history who have scored 500 goals. The only active player closer than Ovechkin is Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa, who has 487 goals in 1,184 games.

If Ovechkin scores his 500th goal this season, he will be the fifth-fastest player to reach 500 goals in NHL history. Wayne Gretzky (575 games), Mario Lemieux (605), Mike Bossy (647) and Brett Hull (693) are the only players to score 500 goals in fewer than 700 games.

"It's the timeframe that he's doing it in," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "He's approaching levels of goal scoring that you talk about with the great goal scorers. Probably it was Bobby Hull and the next generation was talking about Brett Hull, but this generation now is going to be talking about Ovechkin. There's no question he'll be in the Hall of Fame and there's no question he's one of the few guys that has a chance to break The Great One's record."

Gretzky is the NHL's all-time leading goal scorer with 894. Ovechkin would have to average 50 or more goals for eight more seasons, including the current season, to approach Gretzky's record. Ovechkin has eight goals in 12 games this season.

"I think he might be the best goal scorer since Gretzky," Brett Hull said, "unless he passes Gretzky."

Brett Hull might be being a bit modest considering he's third all-time with 741 goals. He's also the closest comparison to Ovechkin because of his mentality as a goal scorer and his powerful shot.

Hull was one of three people spoke to regarding Ovechkin and what makes him special. He offered the goal scorer's perspective, Retired goalie Martin Brodeur, now in the front office of the St. Louis Blues, offered the goalie's perspective, and Trotz discussed what it is like coaching No. 8.

Here is what they had to say:


Hull, who is known for having one of the best shots in NHL history, is mesmerized by how the puck comes off the stick of Ovechkin.

"It's just so overpowering," Hull said. "He came into St. Louis last year and on the power play, on his off side, he put one by [Brian] Elliott and Elliott didn't even move; just shook his head. The accuracy and the velocity, it's scary. But he's so big and strong and with the new technology, it's just incredible how he shoots it."

Hull said he's gone down to the dressing room to get an up-close look at the sticks used by Ovechkin. His takeaway:

"I couldn't use it," Hull said.


"It's basically like my stick, but he adds the dimension of the heel curve with a little toe, and I know I couldn't use that stick," Hull said.

Brett Hull is mesmerized by how the puck comes off the stick of Alex Ovechkin. (Photo: Getty Images)

Ovechkin's stick has drawn comparisons to a sand wedge in golf. Ironically, Hull uses another golfing comparison to describe Ovechkin, saying the Russian is like a golfer who is long off the tee. The timing and the ability to use his legs and big upper body to generate power on his shot, makes Ovechkin similar to two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.

"Look at Bubba Watson, his feet are almost in the air and he's using them, and then he has big muscles and he's using them to blow it through," Hull said. "You can't shoot without big muscles. Alex is so big and strong, and then he's got that God-given ability to shoot the puck. You put that all together and it's awesome."

What impresses Hull most, though, is the regularity at which Ovechkin reaches 50 goals in an era when scoring 40 is seen as doing something out of the ordinary. Hull scored at least 70 goals in three consecutive seasons, topping out at 86. He played in an era when you almost had to score 70 to lead the League.

Ovechkin has led the NHL in scoring in five times, including each of the past three seasons. He scored more than 60 goals once (65 in 2007-08) and has scored more than 50 in five seasons.

"It's not like goals are flying off the shelf in today's game either," Hull said. "No one is getting 80 or 90 goals, or averaging 60 a year. He's getting 50 goals when maybe there is one other guy in the 40s. Not only that, but it's the way he plays. It's not like the way I played, where I was just trying to be invisible. He's out there running guys. It's very impressive to me."


Brodeur also brought up the curve on Ovechkin's stick because of what it does to the puck and how difficult it is for a goalie to read the resulting movement of the puck.

"The puck almost sneaks through you," he said. "You think your arm is against your body, but the puck, instead of coming in flat, it comes in at a little bit of an angle, and because of the velocity that thing is able to squeak through you."

Brodeur said other Russian players have a similar curve to their sticks. He named Ilya Kovalchuk, who he played with in New Jersey, and Alexander Semin, who played with Ovechkin in Washington and now plays for the Montreal Canadiens.

Alex Ovechkin scores a goal against Martin Brodeur.

Andy Marlin/NHLI (Click to enlarge)

"That's the toe curve that they have, so when they bring it in and they shoot, the puck almost like knuckles, it moves a little bit," Brodeur said. "That's why you see a lot of goals from these guys that trickle through the goalie. For the goalie, it's positioning and trying to not create a hole, because whenever there is a hole that puck, because of the way it comes in at you, it sneaks through you. When I played against him, when he shoots it was about squeezing my body tightly so it didn't squeak through me."

Brodeur gave up seven goals to Ovechkin, not a lot considering the regularity with which the Devils and Capitals played as Eastern Conference foes. The key for Brodeur was he didn't expect Ovechkin to try to pick a corner with his hard shot.

"He aims with the intention of it going through you," Brodeur said.

Ovechkin's one-timer has made him famous, but Brodeur said the ability to shoot in a one-on-one situation is Ovechkin's biggest strength.

"It's when he comes down the wing and he uses somebody as a screen, gets close to the player and shoots it right by their shin pads or skates, and that's hard to pick up for a goalie," Brodeur said. "When he sees he can't beat you, now he's using you as a screen. For a goalie, you can't just sell out on the shot. You might get caught out of position or flat footed because of it."

Brodeur also credited Ovechkin with being an underrated and deceiving passer. He has 428 assists in his career.

"He can make some really good passes and they're hard," Brodeur said. "A lot of players have a hard time handling his ways of passing, but when you get a guy that's able to handle those, watch out. I remember he faked a shot on me and I think it was [Nicklas] Backstrom on the other side, and that pass was so hard across. Backstrom hit a one-timer and I don't think I moved an inch. I was like, 'Oh my.' He's got that in his game also."


Upon arrival as the Washington coach in May 2014, new coach Barry Trotz decided to move Ovechkin back to the left wing.

Former Capitals coach Adam Oates used Ovechkin on right wing as a way to change the player up and get his game back. Ovechkin scored 83 goals in 126 games with Oates as the coach, but almost half (40) came on the power play and Ovechkin was a minus-35 in 2013-14.

"I said, 'You're not as dynamic on the right side, you need to go back to the left,'" Trotz said. "He was happy about that. We formed our system to allow him to have some freedom, and it applies to all our left wingers, I would say they're a little more free than the right wingers."

"He had one of the greatest turnaround seasons of all-time in terms of plus-minus, and all the while scoring as many goals to be like 20 percent ahead of Stamkos in goal scoring. That's unheard of." -- Capitals coach Barry Trotz

The next thing Trotz did was tell Ovechkin he wasn't looking to change him, only help him grow as a player. The key: Have a plan to get the puck back so you can have it more.

Ovechkin went from being a minus-35 in Oates' last season to a plus-10 last season. Say what you will about plus-minus as a relevant stat, Ovechkin's turnaround from one season to the next was dramatic.

Ovechkin scored 53 goals last season, 10 more than the runner-up, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos.

"He had one of the greatest turnaround seasons of all-time in terms of plus-minus, and all the while scoring as many goals to be like 20 percent ahead of Stamkos in goal scoring," Trotz said. "That's unheard of."

It showed Trotz that Ovechkin is determined to win, not just pile up individual awards, of which he already has plenty.

"More than anything, I want to win a championship with Alex Ovechkin," Trotz said. "He's done everything individually. He'd like to win the team stuff. He's really into the team stuff."

A couple of milestones should come first. They're significant too.


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