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Could Ovechkin ever catch Gretzky?

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Could Ovechkin ever catch Gretzky?

Tonight at Verizon Center, the Capitals will honor Alex Ovechkin’s 500th NHL goal with a pregame ceremony and a nice shiny gift.

The fact Ovechkin became the fifth fastest player in NHL history to reach 500 goals -- he did it in his 801st NHL game -- in an age when goal scoring is near an all-time low is astonishing to those around the league. 

And it makes them wonder how many more the Great 8 will have when he decides to hang up the skates. 

“What (reaching 500 goals) means is he’s an extraordinarily talented player, a generational player,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told CSNMidAtlantic.com. “And he’s also somebody who shows a passion for the game. As a fan, you can just feed off the energy that he brings every night to the game and to his teammates.”

Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin came into the NHL five years before Ovechkin, in 2000, and has 220 goals and 731 assists for 951 points in 1,133 games. To gain some perspective on Ovechkin’s goal totals, it took Henrik and his brother, Daniel (346 goals), 13 NHL seasons and nearly 2,000 combined NHL games to combine for 500 goals.

“It’s unbelievable to see those numbers,” Henrik Sedin said. “That’s 50 goals a season, and that should be in impossible in today’s NHL. He went through some tough years a few years back where he only scored 30-plus goals. That’s when you know you’re good.”

Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller, who is expected to return to the nets tonight after suffering a groin injury on Dec. 20, has allowed 18 goals to Ovechkin in his career. He says few players in NHL history have possessed the intestinal drive to score goals like Ovechkin. 

“It’s his willingness to get to the places where he can score,” Miller said. “I think it’s more his attitude. He’ll go through you, he’ll throw it on net, he’ll sacrifice his body or throw himself into the flow of the play. 

“He’s a strong guy and with his release it never comes off flat – ever. He’s kind of a cross between a lacrosse player and a hockey player. He’s got an aggressive curve on his stick and it’s like he carries the puck a little further. It’s a tough read with his release, so it has to be defense by committee with him.”

While he could have never predicted Ovechkin would reach 500 goals in just over 800 games, Miller said he recognized Ovechkin’s incredible talent during his rookie season of 2005-06.

“Whether he could maintain that style for as long as he has, that’s been the thing I think is most impressive,” Miller said. “He’s really physical. He goes to hard areas. He’s like a bull out there and he’s been doing it for a number of years. Usually you see running backs in football, they wear out. Ovi seems to be going pretty strong and that’s what makes him hard to contain.”

So, at this rate, just how many goals can Ovechkin score in his career? He’s on pace for 51 this season and has five more years on his 13-year, $124 million contract. If Ovechkin averages 45 goals in those five seasons leading up to his 36th birthday he’ll have roughly 750 goals at the end of his contract.

Right now, that would place him third on the NHL’s all-time list, behind Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801), although Jaromir Jagr is creeping up on both with 737 career goals.

For Ovechkin to have a chance at surpassing Howe and challenge Gretzky’s record, he’d need to average 37 goals in each of the next 10 seasons.

“No, I don’t think I’m going to play 10 years,” said Ovechkin , who turned 30 in September. “I’m not Jagr. As long as I’m healthy and as long as I produce what I can do, physically, that’s the most important thing. 

“You can play, but what’s the point if you can do nothing out there? You’re just going to embarrass yourself and embarrass the name. You have to be done when it’s time. Of course, it’s going to be hard (to retire) but sometimes you have to do that kind of stuff.”

Canucks forward Radim Vrbata, who has 256 goals in 912 NHL games, said he thinks Ovechkin would need to change the way he plays if he hoped to still be playing at the age of 40. 

“With the way he likes to score goals and the passion he has for it, if somebody can do it in today’s game I think it’s him,” Vrbata said. “It’s all on him, how long he wants to play and if he has the desire to do it. To score 500 goals in 800 games is something special and quite an accomplishment.

“He would have to change his game a little bit. Jagr was different when he was young but as he got older he figured out how to change his game and now - he’s not as fast as he used to be -- but he’s still effective. 

“(Ovechkin) would probably have to do something similar to that, maybe not play as physical as he does. But scoring goals is not something you can teach. You have to have it in you and he certainly does.”

There’s the rub. In the eyes of Henrik Sedin, and probably in Ovechkin’s as well, if you take the physical part of Ovechkin game away from him, do the goals diminish as well?  

“Yeah, for him to score 50 in 80 every year, I think he has to play the way he does now,” Sedin said. “I don’t see him enough, but I think that’s the way he needs to play. It’ll be tough for him to keep going at this pace if he changes his game.”

Bettman was asked how many goals he thinks Ovechkin will have when he finally hangs up his Bauers.

“I never wonder how many,” he said. “I just marvel at watching him as he proceeds on this journey.”

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

We all know that Alex Ovechkin is a world-class goal scorer. He is the best goal scorer of his generation and perhaps the best of all time.

He tallied another two goals Monday in the Capitals' 6-3 victory Game 6 over the Blue Jackets, but that’s not what really impressed head coach Barry Trotz.

While Ovechkin's career is full of highlight reel goals, it was the ugly plays that really caught Trotz's eye on Monday.

"[Ovechkin's] evolved in areas of his game," Trotz said after the game.

"He’s not just at that dot. He’ll go to the front of the net, he’s not scared to do that. It’s just adding layers to his game."

Ovechkin's first goal of the game was not pretty. It won't make any Top 10 lists, it won't be shown throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was an ugly rebound goal...and it was beautiful.

Just four minutes after Nick Foligno tied the game, Ovechkin put the Caps back ahead with a rebound goal. He parked himself in front of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and was in perfect position when Bobrovsky made a kick out save to backhand the rebound into the empty net.

Those are the type of plays we did not always see from "The Great 8." But his performance on Monday did not stop there.

As Washington attempted to shut the door on the game and the series, Ovechkin did what veteran leaders do, laying out to block a Ryan Murray shot with less than three minutes to go.

"I’m probably as proud of him right at the end of the game blocking shots and doing that type of thing," Trotz said. "That’s full commitment. When that was necessary, that’s where you get your street cred with your teammates. You’ve got to block a shot when it’s necessary and get a puck out when it’s necessary. I’d probably give him more props on that than even scoring goals because that’s what you really expect of him."

Few expected a 32-year-old Ovechkin to rebound from a 33-goal season, but he did just that with 49 goals in 2017-18 to win his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy as the league-leader.

The reason why was on full display on Monday. His game has evolved, as cliche as it sounds.

Instead of relying just on the quick rushes, pretty one-timers and incredible dekes, Ovechkin has committed more to getting to the contested areas. He's altered his game. He is scoring the type of ugly, dirty goals the Capitals desperately need in the playoffs.

That commitment on offense seemed to translate to the defense as well on Monday night, putting his body is a dangerous position laying out for blocked shots.

"Those are the necessary things, those necessary details that allow you to win," Trotz said. "If you don’t have them, then you’re not going to win."

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