ovechkin column

DETROIT -- Alex Ovechkin had eight goals through his first 43 games this season.


At that point, some folks might have wondered if the 38-year-old forward was finally slowing down. But not his Washington Capitals teammates. Forward Dylan Strome said he was chatting with goalie Charlie Lindgren around that time.

“We were like, ‘I’m not going to be surprised when he gets 30 this year,’” Strome said.

Fast-forward to the Capitals’ 2-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Tuesday.

Ovechkin streaked through the neutral zone as the clock counted down at the end of the second period. Forward T.J. Oshie banked the puck off the left-wing boards, and Ovechkin collected it as he crossed the blue line.

In a flash, Ovechkin handled the puck and snapped a shot from the top of the left circle. The puck whizzed past the blocker of goalie Alex Lyon with eight seconds left, giving the Capitals a 2-0 lead and Ovechkin his 30th goal of the season.

“Oshie [made] a tremendous play on the blue line, and I was kind of 2-on-1,” Ovechkin said. “I knew there was maybe 15 or 20 seconds left in the period, and I tried to shoot the puck and hope it goes in. I’ll take it.”

Ovechkin now has 22 goals in his past 32 games, including four in his past four.

“He finds a way to score,” Strome said. “He has a great shot. He had a 2-on-1, and the goalie was maybe playing a little pass. When he sees a spot in the net, he’s going to put it home. Nice milestone, and yeah, I mean, we obviously needed the goal. It helps a lot.”

Unbelievable. At least it would be unbelievable if this weren’t Ovechkin.

Ovechkin set the NHL record for 30-goal seasons with 18, passing Mike Gartner, and the goal ended up as the winner.

WSH@DET: Ovechkin nets his 30th goal of season to double lead

The Capitals, who had lost six straight games (0-4-2), leapfrogged the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins into the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

“He got on that Ovechkin roll, and ‘Stromer,’ he did tell me -- that’s facts -- that ‘Ovi’ is going to find a way to get 30,” Lindgren said. “And sure enough, he’s at 30 right now.

“And they’re big goals. I mean, listen, post-All-Star break we’ve needed every single goal that he’s scored. And again, he’s a big-game player and he’s someone that we look to to score big goals for our team.”

What else will Ovechkin do down the stretch as the Capitals fight for a playoff spot?

They visit the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MNMT, MSG-B), then host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, host the Boston Bruins on Monday and visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday.

How long before Ovechkin ties Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 goals? As soon as next season?

Suddenly it seems possible.

Yes, he could finish this season with the lowest goal total for a full season in his NHL career. In his 19 NHL seasons, the only time he has scored fewer than 30 goals came in 2020-21, when he had 24 goals in 45 games. The League played a 56-game schedule due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yes, he will turn 39 on Sept. 17.

But consider that now he has 852 goals, 42 behind Gretzky, and he scored 42 goals last season. He didn’t fade this season; he got stronger.

Asked why he has found his form lately, Ovechkin said: “I don’t know. I just play my game. Try to use chances, try to find rebounds, try to create chances for my linemates. Right now we all know how important it is to get points and stay in the battle. It’s [a] fun time of the year.”

He’s averaging 19:19 of ice time, most among Capitals forwards. He essentially doesn’t come off the ice during power plays, and he has 13 power-play goals this season.

“He looks great,” Strome said. “He’s really fun to play with. He’s fun on the power play to play with. … He does it all. He’s vocal. He talks. He has very good insight on the power play and what he thinks we need to do. Obviously he has his spot [in the left circle], but the other guys, we’re trying to get him the puck as much as we can -- and for good reason.”

After Ovechkin scored Tuesday, the Capitals posted a message from Gartner on X, formerly known as Twitter. First, Gartner congratulated Ovechkin on this record. Then he looked to the next, and he wasn’t talking about game-winning goals. Ovechkin now has 129, six short of Jaromir Jagr’s NHL record of 135.

He was talking about The Great One.

“There are many records that you have in the National Hockey League, and there’s one big one that you’re still going to get,” Gartner said. “Good luck. All the best.”