As Capitals defenseman Dennis Cholowski greeted Alex Ovechkin after the captain’s third goal of the night, it seemed surreal to Cholowski that he’d even get to bask in such a moment.
In a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Friday night at Capital One Arena, the Capitals were led by a 36-year-old who is showing no signs of slowing down and has no intentions to. With three goals, one on the power play, Ovechkin rallied Washington past the league-leading Panthers for another standout performance in a year that’s becoming one of his best as a professional.
Cholowski was just six-years-old when Ovechkin was drafted by the Capitals as the high-flying Russian phenom who scored goals in bunches. And like everyone else at Capital One Arena he could only watch as the veteran goal-scorer he, and most every young hockey player in the NHL grew up idolizing, was once again better than them all years later.
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” said Cholowski, picked up on waivers from Seattle just last month and seeing Ovechkin up close for the first time. “He was one of my favorite players growing up. I had an Ovechkin jersey. Who didn’t, right? It’s super cool being around these guys and just seeing what he does every day. It’s kind of a dream come true, honestly.”
The fact Ovechkin continues to climb the all-time goal-scoring ranks is impressive on its own, but the fact that he’s been in the league since many of the players on the ice were children sends his achievements to another dimension.
Ovechkin’s power-play goal 2:50 into the second period moved him just one goal shy of Dave Andreychuk’s all-time power play record of 274 goals. Less than a minute later, Ovechkin scored once more on a slap shot that snuck past Florida goalie Spencer Knight.
And early in the third period, he earned the game-winner with a shot in front of the net that beat Panthers starting goalie and fellow Russian Sergei Bobrovsky, who'd left the game briefly due to the NHL's concussion protocol.
“It’s actually unbelievable,” said Caps' rookie Aliaksei Protas, who has played on Ovechkin’s opposite wing in the last few games. “I just like enjoy every second with these guys, try to work hard, help them as much as I can. Just have fun with these guys. It’s unbelievable.”
Ovechkin’s 28th career hat trick tied him for sixth all-time with Marcel Dionne and Bobby Hull. He’s also the oldest player in Capitals history to net a hat trick, breaking the record previously held by Peter Bondra.
Both Ovechkin and his centerman, Evgeny Kuznetsov, tallied three points on the night as their dominant start to the season continued. Ovechkin now has 18 goals and 18 assists in 21 games while Kuznetsov has 27 points. As of the end of Friday’s games, Ovechkin is second in the league in goals behind only Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers.
The assault on the record book isn’t through for Ovechkin, as the next power-play goal will tie him with Andreychuk for the most in NHL history — and, obviously, one goal closer to the top three goal scorers on the NHL’s all-time list.
He's just 18 goals away from tying Jaromir Jagr now, just 53 away from tying Gordie Howe and 146 away from tying Wayne Gretzky, the only players he has left to chase down. And with each game, he gives no indication he's slowing down. Someone, he's speeding up.
“He’s been excellent,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said. “That whole line has been excellent. Kuzy certainly factors into that. But at the end of the day, [Ovechkin] is delivering a lot of offense with the way he’s playing the game. Tonight was a perfect example. It was a big game, and we needed big guys to step up. He was really really good.”
If there was a sign of just how dominant Ovechkin has remained through the ages, it wasn’t the 23-year-old defenseman who grew up as a fan getting to greet him after yet another hat trick, or the 20-year-old winger on his line and assisting on his goals.
It was when, after his third goal of the night as hats flew down to the ice, he skated over to give a fist-bump to his eldest son, Sergei, three-and-a-half now, watching from the front row in the midst of hat-throwing fans honoring his dad.
“I think for us as a parent, it is always kind of fun to see your kid,” Ovechkin said. “You can ask Kuzy or somebody else, when they watch you playing it is something special so it’s a cool moment.”
It was another reminder that while the game and his teammates have changed over time. Ovechkin has not. He's stayed the same great player year after year year.