We’re two games into the 2017-18 campaign and we’ve already witnessed history courtesy of Alex Ovechkin.
On Saturday night, when ‘The Great Eight’ followed up his opening night hat trick with his second three-goal performance of the campaign, he became the first player since Cy Denneny, Joe Malone and Reg Noble in the 1917-18 season, the NHL’s inaugural campaign, to register back-to-back hat tricks to start a season. But then Ovechkin went ahead and pinballed one in to net his seventh goal in two games, making him the first and only player to ever hit the seven-goal mark after two outings.
For Ovechkin, it’s a dream start, especially as some were more than ready to suggest this was the end of his years as one of the game’s top goal scorers, and the fastest he’s flown out of the gate to start a year in his career. Though he’s previously had seasons with three goals in two games — he managed to do so in 2009-10 and 2013-14 — as well as a 2010-11 campaign with four points in two contests to start the year, never has Ovechkin been this white hot.
Ovechkin isn’t the only Capital stuffing the scoresheet to start the season, however, as teammate and linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov has benefitted from Ovechkin’s hot hand to the tune of seven assists across two games. That’s already more than one-sixth of Kuznetsov’s total from the entire 2016-17 season and it puts the Capitals center on pace to have himself a rebound year after a statistical downturn following his breakout sophomore season.
But where do Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, both with seven points, rank among the fastest starting players in league in recent history? Here are 10 players who’ve flown out of the gate at a similar or better rate over the past 30 years:
10. Ron Francis, Pittsburgh Penguins — 1995-96
Francis had his fair share of standout seasons while a member of the Penguins, but his two-game explosion to start the 1995-96 campaign was a sign of things to come. Francis fired home two goals and four points on opening night and followed it up with a three-point night in the Penguins’ second outing of the season. Francis’ three goals and seven points in two games put him on course for the single best season of his career as he netted 27 goals and 119 points in 77 games.
9. Luc Robitaille, Los Angeles Kings — 1988-89
Forget Lucky. They should have been calling Robitaille ‘Cool Hand Luc’ to start the 1988-89 season. Like Ovechkin, Robitaille opened up the season with a trio of goals and a shower of hats as part of a four-point night and he followed it up two days later with a one-goal, three-point performance. Suffice to say life wasn’t so bad playing alongside Wayne Gretzky, who had just been acquired in the off-season.
8. Joe Sakic, Quebec Nordiques — 1992-93
Already having established himself as one of the league’s best young scorers early in his career, Sakic opened the 1992-93 season with a bang. As the Nordiques squared off against the Buffalo Sabres on opening night, Sakic netted two goals to ring in the new campaign, following the performance up with a two-goal, five-point outing the next time out. Sakic wasn’t kidding around to start the year, managing seven goals and 16 points in his first seven games that season.
7. Owen Nolan, San Jose Sharks — 1999-2000
As far as a single outing goes, Nolan’s second game of the 1999-2000 season was about as brilliant as they come. In fact, without the second game, Nolan wouldn’t even be close to this list. Alas, after a one-goal game to open the year, Nolan factored into all but one of San Jose’s goals in a 7-1 romp of the Chicago Blackhawks. Nolan had a hat trick and six points, four of which came on the power play. All told, Nolan went on a 10-game, 17-point streak to start the year.
6. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins — 1992-93
It’s one thing to start hot, which Lemieux most certainly did, but it’s another to remain as hot through the rest of the year. On opening night in 1992, Lemieux scored one goal and two points, a rather pedestrian night for one of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen, but, for an encore, he went off for two goals and five points in Pittsburgh’s second game. The three goals and seven points in two games were part of a 12-game streak in which Lemieux scored 18 goals and 28 points. He finished the year with a mind-boggling 69 goals and 160 points.
5. Jaromir Jagr, Pittsburgh Penguins — 1995-96
A no-duh entry on this list, right? Jagr’s back-to-back big nights came as part of the most impressive statistical season of the legendary winger’s career. He managed three goals and eight points through two games, five of which came in the Penguins’ second game of the season, and proceeded to blow away his previous career high of 99 points by, get this, 50 points. In 82 games, Jagr scored 62 goals and 149 points, scoring in all but 13 games all season.
4. Wayne Gretzky, Los Angeles Kings — 1988-89
This list would be incomplete without Gretzky, of course, and it should come as no surprise that if Robitaille is on this list once he started playing with ‘The Great One,’ that No. 99 is himself on the list, too. In his first two games of the year, and his first two games wearing a non-Oilers jersey, Gretzky managed three goals and eight points. As one might expect, the big start was part of a gaudy point total. Gretzky scored in 23-straights games (!) to start the season, putting up 51 points (!!) over that span en route to a 168-point (!!!) season.
3. John Cullen, Pittsburgh Penguins — 1990-91
2. Kevin Stevens, Pittsburgh Penguins — 1990-91
Cullen and Stevens are paired together here for one simple reason: they scored the points together. While it’s not quite the same as Kuznetsov and Ovechkin in the sense that Kuznetsov has had the primary assist on all but one of Ovechkin’s seven goals, the duo were involved on almost all the same scoring plays.
In the season-opening contest, Cullen and Stevens factored into four goals together as their line alongside Mark Recchi picked the Washington Capitals apart. After one game, Stevens had two goals and six points while Cullen had five helpers. The second night out, the two weren’t quite as tied at the hip, but Cullen and Stevens teamed up for another two goals in a 7-4 defeat of the New Jersey Devils. Cullen’s goal and four points brought his two-game total to nine, while Stevens’ three helpers likewise gave him nine points on the year.
1. Wendel Clark, Toronto Maple Leafs — 1991-92
Ovechkin’s seven-goal performance is unrivalled and only a few players in recent history have even been able to come close. Among those is Clark, who is one of three players in the past 30 years to score at least five goals in the first two games of the campaign. It started with a two-goal, three-point game against the Montreal Canadiens on opening night, but Clark came out flying two night later with a three-goal, five-point performance. Unfortunately, Clark fell injured in Game 3 and went on to miss almost half the campaign after what was arguably the best start to any campaign before Ovechkin’s seven-goal barrage.
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