If you arrived a tad late to the Washington Capitals’ game tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins, you missed out on Alexander Ovechkin officially and completely securing his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
This is not to suggest that Ovechkin ultimately being enshrined was ever in question. But what Ovechkin did 35 seconds into the game made it a fait accompli. In one fell swoop with a toe drag and his signature shot, Ovechkin knocked two things off his hockey bucket list – scoring his 545th goal to pass the immortal Rocket Richard on the all-time goals list and recording his 1,000th career point. Then he added to that with a slapper from the left circle – why do teams let Ovechkin stand there with nobody covering him on the power play? – with a goal in the second.
And in doing so, the greatest goalscorer of his generation booked his space on a plaque regardless of whether or not he ever wins a Stanley Cup or an Olympic gold medal or a World Cup or anything else. In passing the man whose name is on the trophy he has won six times, Ovechkin is in a class by himself among individual performers. Should Ovechkin retire from the game tomorrow, or fail to score another goal for the rest of his career, he would be a Hall of Famer. Five hundred goals is an incredible accomplishment. Forty-four men have done it in NHL history, but it’s not an automatic pass to the Hall of Fame. Seven players who are Hall of Fame eligible scored 500 goals and are not in, at least not yet. Among active players, Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla are shoo-ins and Marian Hossa is a strong candidate.
But there is something special about passing Richard, an almost mythical figure in the game who held the goal scoring record before passing Gordie Howe. The only player who eclipsed Richard and is not yet in the Hall of Fame is Dave Andreychuk and that’s an omission that will almost certainly one day be rectified.
The question now is whether or not Ovechkin will become just the second player in NHL history to lead the league in goals five straight seasons and tie Bobby Hull for the most seasons leading the league in goals with seven. Only Phil Esposito, with six straight goal titles in the 1970s, has led the league more than five straight seasons.
Ovechkin’s goals on Wednesday night were his 21st and 22nd of the season, which put him only four behind league leader Sidney Crosby. And what would have to concern anyone ahead of him on the list this season is that, with the exception of a four-game stretch when he scored a goal in each game early in the season, Ovechkin has not gone through much of a hot streak this season. His goals against Pittsburgh marked only the fourth time Ovechkin has scored in consecutive games this season. Which would be pretty terrific for most garden-variety players, but it’s Ovechkin we’re talking about here.
The Capitals are heating up and if Ovechkin follows suit, there’s a good chance he could walk away with his fifth straight Rocket Richard and his seventh overall. He certainly looked like a man possessed against Pittsburgh and let’s face it, whether he wins the Rocket Richard this year or not, there is simply no player in the game, nor few in history, who can score goals as prodigiously as Ovechkin can.