Not unlike the end of the Capitals regular season, Alex Ovechkin’s chase for his fifth career 50-goal season has a somewhat empty feeling.
The 50-goal plateau is one of the NHL’s most celebrated single season individual milestones, but as Ovechkin and the Capitals limp towards the finish line of a potentially lost season, there has been hardly a whisper of Ovechkin netting 50 for the first time in four years.
While Ovechkin enters the final four games of the regular season with an NHL best 49 goals on the year, a number of reasons may factor into why this might be the quietest chase to 50 in recent memory.
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The most obvious reason is that the Capitals understandably have bigger priorities and greater concerns right now than individual accolades. The Caps are four points out of a playoff position with four games remaining and have just one win in their last six games.
“It doesn’t seem that important right now,” Adam Oates said. “Fifty is [an accomplishment] and if he does it, he would be the only guy that does it [this season], but hopefully it comes with more wins.”
An argument can also be made that there is very little momentum in Ovechkin’s pursuit of 50 goals. If anything, the process has been more of a crawl to 50 goals than a chase. The NHL’s leading goal scorer has eight goals in his last 18 games, but only one marker at even strength.
Much of the Ovechkin chatter of late has surrounded his League-worst minus-35 rating and recent comments made by Oates suggesting that Ovechkin ‘quit’ on a play that led to a goal against in an embarrassing 5-0 loss to the Dallas Stars.
Ovechkin has not been made available to local reporters at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in three straight practices.
Below is a look at the four times that Ovechkin has hit the 50-goal milestone in his NHL career and the excitement and jubilation that surrounded each moment. In most cases, it can be argued, it was a simpler, more innocent time for both player and franchise.
April 13, 2006: Ovechkin beat Atlanta Thrashers goalie Mike Dunham in the 79th game of the season and became the first rookie since Teemu Selanne (1992-93) to score 50 goals in his freshman season.
“It’s the golden moment in a sparkling rookie year,” Capitals play-by-play voice Joe Beninati said on Comcast Sportsnet.
Ovechkin and Selanne remain the only players in NHL history to record 50 goals and 100 during their rookie season. Two months later, Ovechkin received the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.
March 3, 2008: Ovechkin beat Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas in the 67th game of the season and joined Dennis Maruk and Peter Bondra as the only three players in Capitals history with multiple 50-goal seasons.
Ovechkin’s 50th goal was the first of three he scored in the first period alone that night as the Capitals built a 6-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes before beating the Bruins 10-2 from Verizon Center.
Beginning with the blowout win against Boston, the Capitals closed out the 2007-08 season on a 13-3-0 run, capturing the Southeast Division on the final night of the regular season. Ovechkin would finish with a career-high and NHL-best 65 goals and 112 points and win his first of three MVP awards.
March 19, 2009: Ovechkin beat Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Mike McKenna in the 73rd game of the season for his 50th goal of the season, and quickly dropped his stick to the ice as part of an elaborate goal celebration.
Ovechkin drew criticism for his ‘hot stick’ antics, but it didn’t seem to bother teammates Brooks Laich and Mike Green who met Ovechkin with a shaving cream pie in the Caps’ dressing room following the 5-2 win.
Ovechkin would finish the season with an NHL-best 56 goals and a second straight MVP award. The Capitals went on to win their second straight Southeast Division title.
April 9, 2010: Ovechkin beat Atlanta Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec in the 81st game of the season and joined Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only players in NHL history to record 50 goals in four of his first five NHL seasons.
The Capitals went on to beat the Thrashers 5-2 for their franchise record 54th win of the season, while Nicklas Backstrom registered his first career 100 point season. Prior to the game, the Caps were presented with the Presidents’ Trophy, having already clinched the top record in the NHL’s regular-season.