Alex Ovechkin overtakes Gordie Howe with 802nd goal, reaches No. 2 all-time


Alex Ovechkin took the next step in the pursuit of hockey history on Friday night, scoring his 801st and 802nd career goals to pass Gordie Howe for No. 2 on the NHL’s all-time list.

The milestone goal was an empty-netter inside the blue line with 1:00 remaining in the Washington Capitals’ 4–1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at Capital One Arena. The home crowd went berserk, then long saw the captain on the ice with his teammates celebrating in ecstatic glee. The Russian star’s first goal of the night came off the circle near the end of the first period.

“It’s very emotional,” Ovechkin said. “My parents watched it from home. My wife’s here, the kids are here, friend. To do this with a home audience is special. They give me full support and that’s a big thing. This is a historic moment. It is good to be in this category of players. It’s great.”

The only name above Ovechkin now is that of “The Great One” — Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals, once thought unattainable, are at the top of the mountain. And given that the 37-year-old Ovechkin’s scoring pace has barely slowed as he’s aged, it’s likely that when — if not when — No. 8 passes on the great No. 99.

“It’s crazy to watch, and it’s a huge number, and it’s a huge accomplishment for his game, for his person, and also for his family,” said longtime Capitals teammate Dmitry Orlov. “The way he’s going now, it’s definitely awesome, and you hope he’s going to be healthy — and another day, another milestone.”

Ovechkin’s no-look, empty-net goal came in a slightly humorous vein. After the Jets pulled their goaltender, David Rettich, with only three minutes left in regulation, the home crowd chanted Ovechkin’s name. The crowd was ready for Capitals coach Peter Laviolette to put Ovechkin on the ice for the empty-netter attempt — and the chants got louder as the clock ticked down.

Ovechkin went on the ice with 1:42 remaining in the game and attempted a long shot on an empty net that hit the post and went out. Moments later, with the Capitals in the offensive zone and the net open in front of him, Ovechkin passed it to Evgeni Kuznetsov, who quickly decided he didn’t want to shoot and passed it back to Ovechkin instead.

Laviolette later said that he and Ovechkin had a conversation before the game and decided that he would give Ovechkin normal minutes if an empty-net opportunity arose.

“It’s the kind of position where if you have a chance to take it, you take it,” Ovechkin said. “I give it to Kuji, and he said, ‘I don’t want to take it.’ But after that, it’s special.

Kuznetsov said: “If I score there I’ll probably feel bad and half the world will probably be mad at me. You know, I have a lot of haters … reputation, whatever.”

Howe died in 2016 at the age of 88. Ovechkin met him at the 2009 All-Star Game in Montreal. He said that the signed picture of Ovechkin and Howe together in the dressing room remains Ovechkin’s “top thing” in his collection.

“Obviously, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky’s stick, Mario Lemieux’s stick — [the photo is] Maybe the top,” he said.

Numbers 801 and 802 were home to Ovechkin’s wife, Nastya, and two sons, Sergei, 4, and Ilya, 2. All have been present in Washington’s last three home games, when Ovechkin had a chance to catch Howe but couldn’t light the lamp.

On Friday, with all eyes on him, Ovechkin made sure he put on a show. Both Sergei and Ilya went to the Capitals’ locker room after the game and posed for photos holding their father’s historic No. 801 and No. 802 pucks.

“You never thought it was going to happen when you came into the league, you were going to break any Gordie Howe records or Wayne Gretzky records or any records,” Ovechkin said. “You felt like, OK, maybe you’re going to play in the NHL, you’re going to be good and you’re going to try to do your best — but the whole situation that’s happening right now is a miracle. You You know, it’s very special.

Ovechkin’s first goal tied Howe’s record 18:22 into the first period to give Washington a 1–0 lead on Friday. His wrist shot from the circle put past Rittich, the 166th goal goalkeeper Ovechkin has scored in his remarkable career.

Then followed by a second.

“When you look at what Alex does on a daily basis, I think anything is possible,” Laviolette said. “The way he plays. The way he scores. The way he shoots the puck. His love for the game. His passion and purpose for the game. Anything is possible.”

Ovechkin has scored nine goals in his last nine games. For the season, he has 22 goals in 36 games – on 50-goal pace. The Capitals struggled to start the year, but the captain helped keep his injury-ravaged team afloat.

“He’s on pace again for another great year,” Laviolette said. “He’s in great shape. He clearly has tremendous ability and talent when it comes to doing what he does. He loves the game. He has passion and purpose when he takes the ice. I think all these things combined and the fact that he has been able to play a lot of games, it all adds up to his ability to play consistently.”

Teammates have long admired Ovechkin’s abilities, but as he outdoes one legend after another during his march up the goals list, the appreciation has reached a new level.

“Seven or eight years ago, no one talked about it, even though he was clearly on the same trajectory he’s on now,” defenseman John Carlson said this month. “It went from ‘maybe, kind of’ to ‘holy crap, it’s coming too soon.'” … You get a chance to play for 13 years with a guy who beat these guys in the history books, and that’s a great thing.

With No. 802 behind him, Ovechkin can take a moment to breathe. But the hopes don’t end at number 2.

“Everyone is waiting for Gretzky to record, and it’s not going to be easy,” Orlov said. “Everybody knows it, and so does he. It’s a lot of work and sometimes luck. There’s a long way to go.”

Further added Anthony Mantha: “I think once he’s going to be number one, he can have a sense of relief. Until then, he’s on the hunt – and that’s what we love about him.”

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