ARLINGTON, Va. – Mired in the longest goal-scoring drought of his 19-season NHL career, Alex Ovechkin is searching for answers just like everyone else around the hockey world.

The Washington Capitals left wing hasn’t scored a goal in 13 consecutive games and has five goals in 28 games this season heading into a visit from the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; MAX, MNMT, TNT, TVAS). That’s strange territory for the 38-year-old, who is second in NHL history with 827 goals.

So, what’s going on? 

“I don’t know,” Ovechkin told NHL.com on Wednesday. “Some luck. I have chances, I have pretty good chances, but sometimes it’s just a period of maybe you hold the stick too tight because you didn’t score or something. But I think overall, sooner or later it’s going to happen, and everything is going to go in.”

Ovechkin has remained 67 goals behind Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 since he last scored against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 18. That record felt well within his reach after he scored his 801st and 802nd goals against the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 23, 2022, to move past Gordie Howe (801) into second on the NHL goals list and finished last season with 42 goals -- his League-record 13th season with at least 40 goals.
But the goals haven’t come easy this season for Ovechkin and Washington, which is 30th in the NHL in averaging 2.39 goals per game. Ovechkin has scored the fewest goals through the first 28 games of a season of his career and he’s on pace to finish with 15. He’s never scored fewer than 32 goals (2010-11) in an 82-game season.
Ovechkin has five assists and 46 shots on goal during his 13-game drought, which surpasses his previous long of 10 games without a goal from Feb. 22 – March 12, 2017.

“I think it’s frustration for me, I think frustration for everybody,” he said. “You can see we don’t score as many goals as we used to score, and I don’t know if you’re going to blame the system or whatever. We play hockey. We have to create chances. We have to create opportunities for yourself and for your teammates to set it up and have a good chance.”

The Capitals (15-9-4) have been able overcome their scoring woes with strong goaltending and team defense that has them seventh in the Eastern Conference with a .607 points percentage. Ovechkin has had a hand in that success. 

He is third on the Capitals with 17 points, behind linemates Dylan Strome and Tom Wilson with 18 each.

“He’s had a very high offensive impact at the same time he’s not scoring, which I wouldn’t say too many people would’ve anticipated,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. “But you know him. He can defy all odds and pull something out pretty quickly. But I think he’s done a great job of keeping his head down and going with what’s happening and, obviously, the team is doing well and that’s a big factor in happiness for everyone, too.”

If it was a choice between winning and scoring goals, Ovechkin’s answer would be easy.

“The most important thing is we collect the points, and we win the games,” he said. “I’d rather be in a playoff spot than score 20 goals and you’re out of contention.”

Ovechkin knows he’s expected to score goals, though.

“Yeah. That’s my job,” Ovechkin said. “If I don’t score, then I have do some different things to help the team to win, and I think everybody in this time right now knows who we are and how we have to play.”

Of Ovechkin’s five goals, he’s scored one 5-on-5, one 4-on-4, one on the power play and two into empty nets. His 4.8 shooting percentage (on a team-leading 104 shots on goal) is down significantly from 14.3 last season and his career average of 12.8. 

Among the 31 players in the NHL with at least 100 shots on goal, only Matthew Tkachuk of the Florida Panthers (five goals in 31 games after scoring 40 last season) has a lower shooting percentage at 4.5 percent.

There have been some positive signs for Ovechkin lately. He had a game-high six shots on goal and 14 shot attempts in a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday and four more shots in a 2-1 shootout win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

But the puck hasn’t gone in.

“It is surprising because last year, to score 42, I think we’ve just grown accustomed to that it’s going to happen,” said former NHL goalie Brian Boucher, now an analyst on TNT and Philadelphia Flyers’ telecast on NBC Sports Philadelphia. “But in saying that, we’re only 28 games into the season and there’s still 50-something games to play and he certainly could catch fire. Say he scores 25 the rest of the way, it would be a good second half of the year.
“I wouldn’t bet against him just because of how talented he is and his knack for scoring and all that. But I think a big part of it is going to have to come on the power play.”

Washington is last in the NHL on the power play at 9.8 percent. The NHL record holder with 300 power-play goals, Ovechkin scored his lone power-play goal this season against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 24. He has yet to score a goal at any strength on his trademark one-timer from the left circle.

Last season, he scored nine of his 14 power-play goals on one-timers from the left circle or above. 

“You can see the power play is a little bit struggling,” Ovechkin said. “When you didn’t score, you hold the stick too tight. We played so many games without getting shots, without getting good look because of bad decisions, not moving the puck, not moving your bodies.”

Ovechkin is still getting a lot on his shot, as evidenced by his 24 of at least 90 miles per hour. That’s second most among forwards, behind Tage Thompson of the Buffalo Sabres with 25, and tied for fourth overall in the League, according to NHL EDGE stats.
Ovechkin’s average of 3.71 shots on goal per game is down from 4.03 per game last season (his NHL career-low) and his career average before this season of 4.72 per game. He is averaging 7.46 shot attempts per game after averaging 7.96 last season. 

Capitals coach Spencer Carbery believes that Ovechkin remains “in a good head space” despite his scoring struggles, and just needs to focus on the things he can control.

“Focus on the process,” Carbery said. “Focus on getting yourself into those spots. Focus on having an O-zone shift, being with your touches. And I think he knows that and knows that his opportunities and shots will eventually start falling and I think once they start, that could snowball.”

That’s Ovechkin’s hope as well.

“Like I said, I have pretty good chances,” he said. “I just have to score. Sooner or later, it’s going to happen.”