Alex Ovechkin becoming just the third NHL player with 800 goals has put him on the verge taking his next big step in hockey history.
Ovechkin is just two goals from passing Gordie Howe for second on the career list. “Mr. Hockey” is the only player between Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 that long seemed unapproachable. The longtime Washington Capitals captain remains very much on track to challenge the “Great One.”
Mark Howe told Ovechkin exactly that when they sat down last week.
“I said, ‘I know you’re going to pass Gordie, congratulations, but you have to have your sights set on No. 99,’’’ Howe recalled Wednesday, referring to Gretzy’s longtime sweater number. ”Because once you start getting close and once you see that it’s within reach, it makes it a huge motivating factor.”
But first, Nos. 801 and 802, which Ovechkin could score as soon as Thursday night at home against the Dallas Stars. The Capitals also host the Toronto Maple Leafs — on “Hockey Night in Canada,” no less — on Saturday and Gordie’s longtime former team, the Detroit Red Wings, on Monday night.
“Let’s take it step by step,” Ovechkin said Tuesday night in Chicago after reaching the 800-goal plateau with a hat trick that brought him a standing ovation. “It’s a big number. It’s the best company you ever can imagine since you started playing hockey, with Gordie (and Wayne) — 800, I’m the third person who ever scored that many goals.”
Mark Howe, Gordie’s youngest son and himself a Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman and longtime scout, fondly remembers Gretzky asking his father to join him during his approach of the old record in March 1994 and knows his parents would be fully supportive of Ovechkin if they were still alive. That was another message to Ovechkin, who Howe has made a point to talk to in person instead of simply recording congratulatory video messages.
“I said, ‘If Gordie and (his wife) Colleen were here, they’d be supporting you 100%,’ and there’s zero doubt of that,” Howe said. “I said: ‘The Howe family, we’re pulling for you. We’re rooting for you.’”
Gretzky is openly rooting for Ovechkin to break his record, something that would take 95 more goals for the best scorer of this generation who is 37 and producing at a clip never seen by a player this age. Ovechkin has three more years left on the contract he signed in 2021 with an eye on Gretzky’s mark. At his pace this season, he would surpass 50 goals and put him 60 or so away from the record.
Another 50-goal season would be Ovechkin’s 10th, passing Gretzky in that department. Mark Howe is not betting against Ovechkin getting to 895.
“It’s his health and it’s his passion for the game,” Howe said. “As long as he has passion and he’s out there battling, competing, he’s going to score his share of goals. And whether it takes two years, three years, four — whatever it takes — but as long as he still has a love and a passion for the game, yeah, then that record will get broke.”
Howe’s mark, which stood for 14 years from the when he retired in 1980 at age 52, is another stepping stone for Ovechkin, who has passed Phil Esposito, Marcel Dionne, Brett Hull and Jaromir Jagr to move into third place. Ovechkin already owns records for the most goals scored on the road and the power play and with the same franchise.
Following another locker room celebration of a milestone by Ovechkin, Capitals coach Peter Laviolette remarked, “There’s something every night.” And much of that is because Ovechkin has separated himself in the pantheon of the sport’s best at putting the puck in the net.
“That’s what great goal-scorers do,” Laviolette said. “They know where to go. I think they know where to be. I think they know where the puck’s going to go. I think they have a knack for getting it off of their stick. I think they have great detail in the execution of the actual shot. You don’t get there by luck, that’s for sure.”
Mark Howe knows that and believes his father would have a deep appreciation for Ovechkin, much like his peers during Gordie’s prime more than a half-century ago. It’s a little different in that Gretzky idolized Howe before Ovechkin was born, but Mark was struck by something the superstar Russian winger said during a joint interview.
“Alex, he goes, ‘Well, yeah, his name is ‘Mr. Hockey,’ he’s got to mean something,’” Howe said. “Dad earned his stripes back in the ’50s and ’60s primarily, but his name I think still looms large in hockey.”
So will Ovechkin’s long after he passes Howe and takes his best shot at Gretzky.
—Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press