The Washington Capitals forward passed Brett Hull for second in power-play goals by scoring his 266th in a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday, leaving him eight behind all-time leader Dave Andreychuk, who scored 274.
Andreychuk, who retired in 2006 after 23 NHL seasons, has been expecting Ovechkin to break his mark for a while and said last season that he’s already “by far” the greatest power-play goal-scorer with his lethal right-handed one-timer from the left circle.
“If I was to say now, yeah, by far,” Andreychuk said. “I played against him, so I understand. Your whole (penalty killing) scheme is to try to get in the shooting lane, try to get your stick in there, and he disrupts a lot of things.”
Hull is waiting for Ovechkin to overtake Andreychuk to bestow that title upon him but acknowledged his coronation is coming.
“I think anybody in that top five of power-play goals was a really good power-play guy and fortunate to play with a lot of good players,” said Hull, who scored 265 power-play goals in 19 NHL seasons before retiring in 2005. “But there’s no question if he goes to No. 1, I don’t see how you can’t say he’s the best power-play guy.”
Los Angeles Kings president Luc Robitaille, who scored 247 power-play goals, fifth most, in 19 NHL seasons as a player before retiring in 2006, went a step further.
“It’s a different era, different goaltenders, but if you put what he’s done in his career he probably is the greatest goal-scorer to ever play our game,” Robitaille said.
With 726 goals, including 20 this season, Ovechkin is sixth in League history and five behind Marcel Dionne (731) for fifth. Ovechkin, in his 16th NHL season, will need more time to get close to Wayne Gretzky‘s NHL record of 894 goals, but it appears almost inevitable that the 35-year-old will break Andreychuk’s power-play goals record.
“Yes, absolutely, 100 percent,” Andreychuk said. “Obviously, a great player. It’s going to happen eventually.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic caused last season to be paused on March 12, and the 2020-21 season to be cut down to 56 games, Ovechkin was on pace to pass Andreychuk before the end of this season. He scored 13 power-play goals in 68 games last season and has six in 36 games this season.
Although Ovechkin scored two power-play goals in his first 22 games this season, Hull never doubted he’d find his rhythm.
“He always does,” Hull said. “Have you seen him shoot? It’s very impressive.”
Fittingly, Ovechkin passed Hull by beating Bruins rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman on a one-timer from the top of the left circle. NHL.com charted each of Ovechkin’s goals and he’s scored 107 of his 266 power-play goals (40.2 percent) on one-timers from the left circle or above it.
Since the start of the 2012-13 season, when then-Capitals coach Adam Oates implemented the 1-3-1 power-power alignment that features Ovechkin’s one-timer from the left circle, he’s scored 86 of his 155 power-play goals (55.5 percent) on one-timers from the left circle or above.
“It doesn’t matter which — one-timer, wrist shot, redirect,” Ovechkin said. “A goal is a goal.”
Still, Ovechkin’s one-timer has become his calling card.
Robitaille, a left-handed shot, occasionally played in the right circle on the power play to take advantage of his one-timer. But when Robitaille was teammates with Gretzky on the Kings, Gretzky played on the right-half wall on the power play, so Robitaille was often stationed in front of the net.
Andreychuk scored most of his power-play goals on deflections and rebounds from the front of the net. Phil Esposito, who is sixth in power-play goals with 246, played farther from the net at the hashmarks for most of his 18 NHL seasons.
Ovechkin is most often stationed in or near the left circle on the power play, but Esposito, who retired in 1981, noted that it’s become more difficult to score from that spot because penalty killers focus on blocking Ovechkin’s shot.
“It’s much harder to score because of the equipment,” Esposito said. “They block a lot more shots than they did when I played because it hurt so much. Now they have more padding, so it doesn’t hurt as much. But Ovechkin still gets his shot off because of his quick release.”
Hull provides the best perspective because his right-handed one-timer was also a big part of his success on the power play. Hull immediately points to the importance of the players around Ovechkin on the Capitals power play: defenseman John Carlson and forwards Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie.
Hull received similar support from Hockey Hall of Famers such as Oates, Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger with the St. Louis Blues, Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov with the Dallas Stars and Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, and a host of others with the Detroit Red Wings.
“It just makes your team better when you have those guys because, if they try to cheat on us, you’ve got other people that can score goals as well,” Hull said. “I played with some unreal players. I was fortunate enough to figure out where to go and I could also shoot it. and ‘Ovi’s’ in the same situation.”
Ultimately, though, it comes down to Ovechkin finding open spots to get his shot off and get it on net. That’s not as simple as standing in one place and waiting for teammates to get him the puck.
“It’s not (always) top of the circle,” Andreychuk said. “The next time it’s a little bit lower. It’s moving around so that you’re always deceptive. It’s shooting to the short side or the far side, maybe making a pass off a one-timer. All of those things eventually (contribute) to why you’re that good at it. And that’s what Ovechkin has.”
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine, also a right-handed shot who plays in the left circle on the power play, grew up admiring Ovechkin. The 22-year-old said he has studied video of him to see if there’s anything he can incorporate into his game to make him more effective.
“There’s some stuff that I’ve looked at,” said Laine, who has scored 56 power-play goals in his five NHL seasons. “Obviously, where he finds those quiet spaces and how he’s able to always beat the goalie somehow. He’s been a pleasure to watch.”
Others have been adept at scoring power-play goals on one-timers from the left circle, including Hockey Hall of Famers such as Hull and Brendan Shanahan (tied with Mario Lemieux for seventh with 237 power-play goals), and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who is third among active players with 165 power-play goals behind Ovechkin and Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks (172).
But Ovechkin has passed them all. And it appears a matter of time before he passes Andreychuk, too.
“He’s different than anybody,” Robitaille said. “No one’s ever played the way he plays and shoots the way he shoots. Every single person in the arena knows it’s going to him. Every goalie, he’s on every video before the game and everybody talks about him, and he still finds a way to score every time, which is truly remarkable.”