Alex Ovechkin was the greatest goal scorer in the NHL for the first five seasons of his career, then the Washington Capitals wing wasn't for a two-season stretch when his game was dissected, his coach changed twice, and Steven Stamkos entered the early stages of the prime of his career.
If it weren't for an injury to Stamkos, it could be quite a battle between him and Ovechkin for sniping supremacy in 2013-14. Ovechkin is not only back to his supreme scoring ways, he's racking up goals at a clip even better than his previous heights.
Ovechkin has 26 goals in 29 games this season. He has 48 in his past 50 games, and 49 in his past 52 dating to the start of a season-ending flurry of 23 in 23 to finish 2012-13.
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 26 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 35
SOG: 156 | +/-: -10
He lit up the Tampa Bay Lightning
with four goals Tuesday, the third time he's scored a hat trick plus one in his career but first time in nearly five years. If Ovechkin can put three past the Florida Panthers
on Friday, it would give him 50 goals in the past 50 regular-season games he has played.
This would be far from an official 50 in 50, which is a uniquely revered accomplishment in hockey. Officially, a player must score 50 goals in his team's first 50 games of a season.
That has been done eight times by five players: Maurice Richard, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky (three times), Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull (twice). Hull was the last to do it, in 1990-91 and 1991-92.
The man passing Hull the puck for those two incredible stretches is now coaching Ovechkin, Adam Oates. After earning a reputation as a power-play guru during his time as an NHL assistant coach, Oates was tasked with helping Ovechkin regain his scoring touch.
Washington's power play has been reborn with Oates in charge, returning to the elite level it was at during the heights of Ovechkin's previous prowess, and he's been a big part of that. He has 27 extra-man goals since the start of the 2012-13 season, 10 more than anyone in the League in that span.
Other players have scored 50 goals in their first 50 games, which leaves out contests missed because of injury or other circumstances. Jari Kurri, Alexander Mogilny, Lemieux (twice) and Cam Neely comprise that list. Ovechkin's team has already played 31 games, so he's more likely to make a run at joining the unofficial list than the official one.
There is no list for scoring 50 goals in 50 games across multiple seasons. It's never really been recognized in the past. That said, there's a reason no one on either of the lists above reached 50 in 50 in a season after 1995-96.
Goaltending has improved exponentially in the past two decades, as has the attention to detail with defensive systems. The day after Ovechkin's Capitals played the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time this season, he was asked about the possibility of scoring 50 in 50 in one season, and the Russian dynamo said he did not think it was possible. He also said he watched some video footage from the 1980s and just shook his head at the goaltending he witnessed.
Considering how scoring has been deflated during the past two decades, scoring 50 goals in any 50-game stretch would be an incredible accomplishment.
To do so, Ovechkin needs three goals Friday, or four in his next two games, or five in his next three. Three against the Panthers would not seem out of the realm of possibility. He has 30 goals in 47 career games against the Panthers. The only team he's scored more against is Tampa Bay.
Following a four-goal game with a hat trick would be a new feat for Ovechkin. He's scored five goals in a two-game span five times, but never six or seven. The next two games after Florida are against the Philadelphia Flyers, another team that has had issues with goal prevention at times this season and in the past against Ovechkin. He has 24 goals in 29 career games against the Flyers.
His career-high for a season is 65 goals, which is a record for a left wing. If he doesn't miss another game in 2013-14, his current pace (26 in 29) would give him 71 goals in 80 games. That would be the most since Mogilny and Teemu Selanne each had 76 goals during the 1992-93 season.
Whether Ovechkin can reach the official 50 in 50, the unofficial 50 in 50, or create a modern version with 50 goals in 50 games across multiple seasons, it is pretty clear "The Great Eight" is again scoring like he once did.