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'Shoot early, shoot often' is the goal-scorer's motto @NHLdotcom

There are as many ways to score goals as there are players in the NHL. Goals come from driving wide and attacking the net to well-placed one-timers, smoothly executed 2-on-2 rushes, or crashing the net and hoping the puck follows along.

Or, if you feel lucky, you can dive on your back and use one arm to sweep the puck over your head, around the prone defender and into the net, while the greatest goal-scorer in League history watches from the opposing bench; that is, if you feel lucky.

One thing is certain: If you want to score, you're going to have to take a shot. And if you want to score a lot, you're going to have to shoot a lot. Goalies now are too good, and the only way to ensure success is by sheer weight of numbers.

Just ask Wayne Gretzky, the game's all-time leading goal-scorer, with 894 in 1,487 games, who famously said, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take."

Consider this: One of the game's all-time great goal-scorers, current-Dallas Stars co-GM Brett Hull, scored no fewer than 54 goals over five seasons from 1989-94, topped by an 86-goal campaign during the 1990-91 season. During that time, "The Golden Brett" took an average of 393 shots per season.

Take a look at the list of last season's top goal-scorers, and you'll see that, like Hull, each of them has taken Gretzky's advice to heart.

In fact, the goal- and shot-king of 2007-08, Alex Ovechkin, took 88 more shots than the next closest shooter, Henrik Zetterberg, and it showed: Ovechkin scored 65 goals last season, 13 more than his closest competitor, Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers, and more in any one season since Mario Lemieux scored 69 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1995-96.

Scoring goals is hard -- even the best of the best can only do it one out of every five attempts, and that only in the best of years. So if a player wants to score, he must be unafraid to "empty the clip," as Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said last season.

It isn't a coincidence that three of the five players on this list -- Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and Vincent Lecavalier -- were each among the top-10 shot producers in the league in 2007-08.

That being said, here is's top Eastern Conference Goal Guys (in no particular order), based on a complex equation of ability, potential, career pedigree and sheer hunger for the back of the net:

Dany Heatley, Ottawa Senators -- The only thing, it seems, that could have derailed Heatley's attempt at back-to-back-to-back 50-goal, 100-point seasons was injury, which reared its ugly head in a game against the Red Wings on Jan. 12, 2008. Heatley crashed awkwardly into the end-boards and missed his team's next 11 games with a right shoulder separation. At the time he had been on pace for only 48 goals, but a career-high 109 points.

Like Jonathan Cheechoo, Heatley's skating always has been a question mark, but his hockey sense and nose for the net, were it a quality that could be quantified, would rank in the stratosphere. Despite his age (he turned 27 this year), Heatley recently became Canada's all-time leading scorer at the IIHF World Championships after he put up an astounding 12 goals and 20 points in only nine games, passing former Detroit captain Steve Yzerman, the man who selected Heatley to the team as Team Canada's GM.

Paired with Jason Spezza, one of the game's elite passers, Heatley's position as one of the NHL's super-scorers is all but cemented through the next few seasons.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta Thrashers -- With two 50-goal campaigns in the past three seasons, and no less than 29 goals in any of his first six full NHL seasons, Kovalchuk would be the unquestioned goal-scoring king of the NHL if not for countryman Alex Ovechkin. In fact, when Ovechkin was asked after his rookie season, when he eclipsed the 50 goals and 100 points, who was the better player, Ovechkin stated that he thought Kovalchuk still was "the man."

Flash forward a few years later, and the two still remain above the rest, though the balance of power may have shifted slightly after 2007-08.

Regardless, Kovalchuk's breakaway speed, devastating shot and genetic, lottery-winning combination of size and strength make him a constant threat to goaltenders, defenses and coaches alike.

Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning -- The 6-foot-4, 219-pound native of Ile Bizard, Quebec, possesses one of the most complete packages of size, smarts, strength and skill ever to tie on a pair of skates. His shot makes him a scoring threat from almost any position in the offensive zone, and his hands and puck-protection skills make him even scarier close to the net; in short, Lecavalier is a dangerous scorer from basically anywhere on the ice. In a "down" season in 2007-08, he still scored 40 goals and 92 points, giving him five straight 30-plus goal, 65-plus point seasons, highlighted by a 52-goal, 108-point season in 2006-07, after which he took home the Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophy as the League's top goal-scorer. The pride of Tampa Bay will look to improve on his exemplary numbers this season, with a reloaded lineup and a sense in Tampa Bay that the Lightning are looking to reclaim the Stanley Cup they won in 2004.

Alex Kovalev, Montreal Canadiens -- Take a look at Kovalev's highlights from last season and you'll see that when Kovalev shoots, he shoots to score. Known for a deadly snap shot and an equally lethal power-play one-timer, Kovalev, even at age 35, epitomizes the term "sniper."

At 6-foot-1 and 224 pounds, his size makes him more than a handful in the offensive zone, and his shot ranks with the best in the League. His hands, and a deceptive ability to hide his true intentions until the final split-second, make Kovalev such an offensive superstar. Though he also mentors the team's younger forwards, like Kostitsyn brothers and Tomas Plekanec, he nevertheless remains an undeniable goal scorer.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals -- At last, we come to the top of the heap: Alexander the Great. Blessed with the physical stature to rival Lecavalier's, a surgical efficiency like that of Kovalev, and a force of will perhaps even more formidable than Jarome Iginla, if the hockey gods ever descend from on-high to form the perfect hockey player, they may be able to use Alexander Ovechkin as a model. The child of a two-time Olympic gold medal-winning mother and a professional soccer-playing father, Ovechkin's bloodlines are almost as pure as his unbridled love of scoring goals.

His 65 goals last season ranks among one of the best totals in League history, and he won't turn 23 until Sept. 17. It can be scary to think that with a few years of seasoning, he could only get better.

And with at least 12 more seasons to grow along with the rest of the steadily-improving Capitals, the question may not be whether, but when, he will flirt with Gretzky's single-season record of 92 goals.
Honorable Mention -- Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh; Alexander Semin, Washington; Zach Parise, New Jersey; Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa.

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