Alex Ovechkin became the sixth player in NHL history to have nine or more 40-goal seasons when he scored in the first period of the Washington Capitals' 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series on Saturday. Ovechkin, Mike Gartner and Mike Bossy each have nine 40-goal seasons; Mario Lemieux and Marcel Dionne have 10, and Wayne Gretzky holds the record with 12.
But in the context of their eras, Ovechkin's performance stands out above the others.
Ovechkin entered the NHL in 2005-06, a season in which teams combined to average 6.05 goals per game. Before that, the last time the League averaged six or more goals per game was 1995-96 (6.29). Since Ovechkin's rookie season, the average has dropped again; through the 2016-17 season, the last time there were more than 5.5 goals per game was 2009-10 (5.54).
Video: TOR@WSH: Ovechkin nets 40th goal of season in front
Now consider when the others played.
For all of Bossy's 10-year career and most of the careers of Gretzky, Lemieux, Dionne and Gartner, an average NHL game featured at least 6.5 goals. In 1981-82, when Gretzky set the single-season record by scoring 92 times, the average was 8.03, the highest since the end of World War II. From the time Dionne entered the NHL in 1971 through Lemieux's last 40-plus season (50 goals in 1996-97), the average goals per game never dropped below 5.83 (in 1996-97) and was less than six per game just one other time (5.83 in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season). In simpler terms, Ovechkin has been putting up historic numbers in an era when scoring has been far tougher.
Ovechkin is also the first player to score 40 goals this season. It's the NHL-record seventh time he's been the first to 40 goals. He's two away from becoming the 20th player in League history and the first to play exclusively in the 21st century to score 600.
Scoring 40 goals in a season once is a major accomplishment. Doing it nine or more times puts a player in elite company. But Ovechkin's scoring numbers in an era when defense, not offense, has dominated make him a one-of-a-kind player. And at age 32, he's far from done.
Video: Alex Ovechkin talks after the game in Annapolis
Lundqvist under siege …
Henrik Lundqvist probably appreciated having the night off on Saturday when the New York Rangers defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 at Rogers Place. He certainly earned the rest.
Lundqvist made 50 saves twice in a three-day span, becoming the first Rangers goaltender to have 50 or more saves in back-to-back games since Gump Worsley from Jan. 27-30, 1963. Unlike Worsley, who stopped 100 of 110 shots in losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs (4-2) and Detroit Red Wings (6-1), Lundqvist helped the Rangers to a 6-5 overtime win at the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday and a 3-1 victory at the Calgary Flames on Friday, his 36th birthday. He's also the first goaltender since the NHL began tracking shots on goal and saves in 1955-56 to make 50 or more saves and earn a victory in two consecutive games. Worsley and Al Rollins (Oct. 9-15 with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1955-56 are the only other goaltenders in NHL history to make 50 or more saves in consecutive games.
Video: NYR@CGY: Lundqvist makes 50 saves on 36th birthday
Before Lundqvist did it last week, no NHL goaltender had multiple 50-save wins in a season since 2003-04, when Roberto Luongo did it for the Florida Panthers.
Lundqvist's night off in Edmonton gave rookie goaltender Alexandar Georgiev the opportunity to earn his first NHL victory, which he did by making "only" 35 saves."
… and he's not alone
Lundqvist isn't the only goaltender who's been busy in the past few days.
Christopher Gibson of the New York Islanders and Antti Niemi of the Montreal Canadiens each faced 50 shots on Saturday. Each made sure his team didn't go home empty-handed: Gibson made 47 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss at the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Niemi finished with 48 saves in a 2-1 OT loss at the Boston Bruins.
Video: NYI@PIT: Gibson makes pair of point-blank stops
Those were the 19th and 20th games this season in which a team took 50 or more shots. There were five such games all last season, eight in 2015-16 and 11 in 2014-15.
Video: MTL@BOS: Niemi fights off Holden's point shot
For much of the season, the New York Islanders' problem was getting the first goal of the game. They're doing better at that now, but aren't able to turn those early leads into victories.
The Islanders reached the new year having scored first in 11 of their 39 games; however, they were able to win all 11. In the 27 games since, they've scored first 18 times but have won just eight (8-7-3). New York has scored first in four of its past five games, but hasn't won any of them (0-2-2).