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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 3, Jets 2 (OT)

March 13, 2018
The 600 Club – It was just a matter of time. Once Alex Ovechkin scored the 598 th goal of his illustrious career on March 3 in the Stadium Series game against Toronto, the 600 watch was on in earnest. The Caps captain went without a goal – as did most of his teammates – in Washington’s three-game California road trip last week, but when the Caps stopped home to host Winnipeg on Monday night at Capital One Arena, Ovechkin took care of business. 

He scored the game’s first goal on a five-on-three Caps power play at 4:35 of the first period, and he notched No. 600 at 3:53 of the second period, putting Washington up 2-1 as he banged home his own rebound from the top of the paint. 

Ovechkin had other scoring opportunities on Monday against the Jets, but wasn’t quite able to record his 21 st career regular season hat trick. When Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on a breakaway at 4:12 of overtime, the goal gave the Caps two much needed and hard-earned points to go along with Ovechkin’s two goals. 

And after the game, Kuznetsov put it into perspective, as only he can.

“It’s a free meal for me, for sure,” quips Kuznetsov. “It’s huge. When you look at those numbers, you don’t even think, ah, it’s like 599, 600. But when you understand, it’s like, holy f**k, that’s a lot of goals, you know? I can’t score like 20 in a year, and this is 600. That’s huge. That’s a special talent, for sure.”

Ovechkin’s 600 th goal came on a goalmouth scramble, after Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck had already stopped Ovechkin’s linemates – Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson – from in tight. Jets defender Dustin Byfuglien blocked Ovechkin’s first bid, and Hellebuyck stopped his second try. But Ovechkin persisted, knocking the third crack into the twine for No. 600. 

“It’s unbelievable,” says Wilson, credited with the primary assist on No. 600. “It’s crazy. I feel like it’s a new accomplishment and a milestone every day, every week around here with him. It’s been a lot of fun to have a front row seat to it. I want to way I missed that on purpose so he could get the 600.

“He is the best goal scorer probably of my time, definitely, and generation. He has definitely got a knack for the net. We get stopped two or three times – pretty good saves there – and he finds a way to put it home. He is a guy who can do that.” 

It’s probably also fitting that Ovechkin’s big night included a power-play goal from his left dot office, the 225 th power-play goal of his NHL career. Just under two weeks ago, Caps goalie Braden Holtby offered some illumination as to why Ovechkin has had so much success with his one-timer from the left dot, scoring seemingly at will from there despite the fact that goaltenders, opponents and opposition coaching staffs know that it’s coming.

“It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t played goal or been a catcher maybe, in baseball, because his shot has never been straight,” says Holtby. “Now his velocity obviously is high, but that’s not what beats goalies. It’s the angle that it takes. He’s got a natural draw on his shot, in golf terms, just the way it comes off the blade. It comes off with the puck slanted. It’s going fast enough that it ends up curving, and it’s like calling for a fastball and getting a curveball, and a hard curveball. It’s not the term ‘change-up’ that we use sometimes when a guy fans on it. It’s an actual curveball.

“It’s very rare, obviously, that’s what makes it so unique. Because usually the make-up of a slapshot or something is a flat, disc-like trajectory. But his is sideways, if you ever watch the puck, so it catches that air in a different way. It might only move six inches or so, but that’s enough when it’s going to a corner because you’re reacting to that six-inch area.”

Because he has been Ovechkin’s teammate for the entirety of his NHL career, Holtby has been spared surrendering any of Ovechkin’s 600 goals. But he has seen it plenty in practice. 

“Sometimes he’ll go on a bit of a scoring drought or something and he’ll want to get his confidence up a bit in practice,” says Holtby, “and he kind of lets it go on us a bit. And there are some shots where you’ve just got to tip your hat. He has eased up on us a lot on the power play, practicing, us and the [defensemen] in front, which is nice. It keeps us all healthier. But no, if he hits his spot, it’s going in.” 

True enough, we’ve seen it over and over. 

“His shot is probably the best ever to come around,” says Holtby. “It’s not surprising in that aspect when you see how he can shoot the puck that he’s there [among the leaders] with goals. But it’s a crazy accomplishment when you think of how few people have done it.”

The Caps captain becomes just the fourth player in league history to reach the 600-goal level prior to playing in his 1,000 th career game; Ovechkin netted No. 600 in his 990 th game in the league. Only Wayne Gretzky (718), Mario Lemieux (719) and Brett Hull (900) got there quicker. 

Ovechkin is just the 20 th player in league history to score as many as 600 goals, and he is just the fourth non-Canadian born player to do so, joining Jaromir Jagr (766), Teemu Selanne (684) and Jari Kurri (601) on that short list. 

Ovechkin recorded the 119 th multi-goal game of his career in reaching the 600 plateau. He has had four four-goal games, 16 three-goal games and 99 two-goal games. That leaves 338 one-goal games, and it means he has scored in 457 of his 990 career games in the league (46.2%), so just under half of all the games he has played. 

Hellebuyck was victimized for the first time on Monday, becoming the 128 th different goaltender to surrender at least one of Ovechkin’s goals and the 95 th netminder to give up at least two tallies to him. New York’s Henrik Lundqvist (22) is Ovechkin’s most frequent victim over the years. 

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Ovechkin is just the sixth player in league history to score as many as 600 goals for one franchise, and he is just the third player to do so from a post-1967 expansion team. Gordie Howe scored 786 goals for the Detroit Red Wings, Steve Yzerman scored 692 for the Red Wings, Lemieux scored 690 for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Joe Sakic netted 625 for the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche and Bobby Hull scored 604 for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Ovechkin has scored more goals against the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise than he has against any other. Including his two tallies on Monday night, he has scored 47 goals in 63 games against Atlanta/Winnipeg. 

Over his 13 seasons in the league, Ovechkin has played for five different coaches in the District. He has totaled 197 of his goals under Bruce Boudreau, 178 under Barry Trotz, 112 under Glen Hanlon, 83 under Adam Oates and 30 under Dale Hunter. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We in the Washington area have been blessed to witness the evolution of Ovechkin’s career for the last decade-plus. He has shown no signs of slowing down, but nothing lasts forever. Savor and appreciate Ovechkin’s greatness and his achievements while you still can.

Blackjack – Kuznetsov netted his 21 st goal of the season – a single-season career best for him – in the final minute of overtime to ensure that Ovechkin’s milestone night would also deliver two important points to the Caps in the standings.

The overtime game-winner is the fourth of his NHL career; Kuznetsov scored the first two three-on-three overtime game-winners in Washington’s franchise history when three-on-three play was introduced at the outset of the 2015-16 season.

Kuznetsov delivered in the extra session against the Panthers in Florida on Oct. 31, 2015 and he did it again less than three weeks later, against the Red Wings in Detroit on Nov. 18, 2015. Monday’s overtime game-winner was Kuznetsov’s first since that night in Motown roughly two and a half years ago. 

Collateral Milestones – On Ovechkin’s first goal of Monday’s game, John Carlson out the puck on a tee for Ovechkin, as he has done so frequently over the years. The assist was Carlson’s 43 rd of the season and the point was his 55 th; both of those figures match single-season career bests for Carlson, and both were established in 2014-15. 

Wilson’s assist on Ovechkin’s second goal lifts the Washington winger to the 30-point level (11 goals, 19 assists) for the first time in his NHL career.

Double Dozen – The Caps’ top line of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Wilson combined for 24 shot attempts in Monday’s game – Ovechkin led the team with 15 – and the trio also drew three of Washington’s four power play opportunities in the game.

Feelin’ Grubi – Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced to improve to 10-8-3 on the season. Grubauer has surrendered two or fewer goals in 12 of his last 15 starts. 

In his last 20 games (15 starts), Grubauer is 10-3-2 with two shutouts, a 1.60 GAA and a .946 save pct. 

By The Numbers – Matt Niskanen led the Caps with 25:14 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with eight shots on net … Devante Smith-Pelly led the Caps with six hits … Lars Eller led Washington with five blocked shots … Jay Beagle won 13 of 17 face-offs (76%).

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