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Alex Ovechkin's mind is on his family, not chasing 50 goals or Gretzky's record

Alex Ovechkin's mind is on his family, not chasing 50 goals or Gretzky's record

One of the biggest storylines in the final handful of games remaining in the NHL's regular season was how many goals Alex Ovechkin would ultimately finish with. He was tied for the league lead in goals and was two goals shy of hitting 50 when the regular season was put on pause. But while fans lament the fact that we may miss out on seeing him hit another historic milestone, Ovechkin made clear there are bigger issues at stake amid the spread of the coronavirus.

With 48 goals on the season and 13 games remaining for the Capitals, Ovechkin was sure to hit 50 goals for the ninth time of his career, tying the record set by Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky. At 34 years old, that's a mark he may never hit again. But after two weeks to reflect -- the NHL officially paused the season on March 12 -- the fact that the coronavirus may have robbed Ovechkin from setting a fairly significant career record does not seem to bother him.

"Of course, you want to score 50," Ovechkin said. "But right now, like everyone is saying, the most important thing is be stay safe and to get this thing done.  It sucks to not score 50 and to not get another milestone, but you have to think about your family, people and fans to be more safe. I'm pretty sure the sooner this is going to be over, the sooner we're going to start back playing hockey. It'll be nice to score again 50 goals or reach those milestones, but right now our mind is on just trying to be safe. It's a scary situation."

It is unknown how long the league's pause may continue, but some players, including Ovechkin, have brought up the possibility of skipping the remainder of the regular season and just jumping into the playoffs when play does resume. Considering Ovechkin is 34, this could be the closest he gets to reaching 50 goals again. Even if he is able to do it again next season at the age of 35 and ie the record, losing the remainder of the regular season this year would almost certainly end his shot at setting the record and not just tying it.

Ovechkin was already scoring at an unprecedented rate since turning 30 as one of only five players age 30 and up to score 50 goals or more at least twice. This year was going to be his third which would have tied Phil Esposito for the most ever. What are the odds he could hit 50 goals not just once more in his career after this season, but twice?

Beyond just reaching 50 goals or competing for a ninth Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's leading scorer, there is also the effect this may have on Ovechkin's chase of Gretzky's goal record to consider.

Ovechkin was on pace for 57 goals. Had he kept that rate up, it would have meant scoring an additional nine goals in the final 13 games. That would move him past Mike Gartner for seventh on the all-time goals list and just two shy of Esposito for sixth. Gretzky's record of 894 still hangs in the distance, just within Ovechkin's grasp. If Washington does not get those final 13 games, however,  that's nine goals or however many he would have scored that Ovechkin will never get back.

That's unfortunate and will feel all the more unfortunate if Ovechkin ultimately falls short of catching Gretzky. It is something that will bother the legion of Ovechkin fans who already point to the 2004-05 season that was erased by a lockout and the 2012-13 season that was shortened to 48 games and wonder just how many goals Ovechkin would have with an additional 116 games.

Ovechkin, however, is now a husband and the father of one son with another baby on the way. With the coronavirus spreading throughout the world, Ovechkin's main focus is on his family. Career milestones are a very distant second.

"You think about those little things, but as soon as you start thinking worldwide and what's going on in the world, it's scary," Ovechkin said. "So my mind right now, it's not about 50 goals or catching the Great One or somebody else, my mind right now is about doing the best what I can do or what my family can do to be safe and to get over it."

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How the 24-team playoff both helps and hurts the Capitals

How the 24-team playoff both helps and hurts the Capitals

The return to play format for the NHL is not set in stone and there are still some details that need to be worked out, but it certainly appears as if there will be a 24-team playoff when the league resumes and the Capitals will get a bye through the first round as one of the top-four teams in the Eastern Conference. At face value, that's a good thing. Out of 24 teams, only eight are guaranteed to make it to the next round and the Caps are one of those eight. But no one is quite sure how teams will look when the season resumes and with that uncertainty comes the possibility that the first-round bye might not actually be a positive.

Let's be clear, a bye through the first round is not a bad thing. The NHL has more parity than any other sports league and no one is guaranteed to win a series regardless of who they play. Really, this is about how ready Washington is going to be for a playoff series after sitting out the first round.

When the NHL put its season on pause, just about everyone had an opinion on how things should look when play resumed. If there was one thing all of the players agreed on, except for Alex Ovechkin, it was that the league should not simply jump into the playoffs. Teams had to be able to play games before that whether it be regular-season games or exhibitions. After so much time away from the ice and away from the team, everyone is going to look rusty when they return to the ice. No one wants to go straight from an abbreviated training camp into a do-or-die playoff series. With the NHL pause stretching into May, however, and with no timetable for a return just, time is a factor the league must consider in terms of being able to finish the current season and still have a full 82-games season in 2020-21. As of the time of writing, it does not appear that teams will be able to play exhibition games upon returning...except for the top seeds.

Based on the format that is currently expected to be agreed upon by the NHL and NHLPA, the top four teams from each conference will play a round-robin to determine playoff seeding during the first round. While 16 teams will have to go from no hockey, to an abbreviated training camp right to what will likely be a best of five playoff series, the top seeds like the Caps will get three exhibition games before starting the playoffs.

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Granted, these would not technically be exhibition games because they would matter in terms of seeding, but even if the Caps were to be blown out in all three games, they would still advance to the second round. Not having to step into a best of five series with the season on the line immediately out of the pause is a huge advantage, or at least it is when looking just at the first round. But what will happen in the second?

When teams like Washington get their first chance to step onto the ice in the postseason it won't be against teams coming off exhibition games. Instead, the Caps will be playing a team that battled through three to five playoff games. While Washington will be trying to dial up the intensity to playoff levels, they will be playing against a team that has been playing at that intensity for a series already.

Who would you give the edge to between a team that just played a playoff series and one coming out of a three-game preseason?

What will make the 2020 postseason fascinating is the fact that we have absolutely no idea what to expect. This is completely unchartered territory.  Maybe the bye-in round will see teams suffer a number of injuries as they ramp up the intensity too quickly from training camp to postseason and the top seeds breeze past their weakened opponents. Maybe three round-robin games will be all it takes to get the Capitals back up to game speed and ready for their first playoff series. Or maybe teams coming off of a playoff series will find themselves in better game shape, more in sync and better prepared for a playoff series than a team coming off a bye that was preceded by a pause of several months. If we look back at this postseason and see that an overwhelming majority of the top eight seeds lose in their first matchups against teams that were already playing playoff hockey, would it really be that big of a shock?

If given the choice between having to step directly into a do-or-die best of five series or being in the Caps' position of getting a bye and playing three exhibition games before a playoff series, of course you should pick the bye. No team is guaranteed to win that first-round matchup, especially with all the uncertainty of the current season. But that does not mean that the bye won't end up proving detrimental in the second round as teams struggle to get up to playoff speed.

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T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie is no stranger to success in shootouts, especially in big games. Namely, his performance in the 2014 Sochi Olympics against Russia earned him that reputation.

If the shootout style was ever brought to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the NHL, there's a chance that Oshie's name would once again be called upon. However, the Capital isn't set on that scenario becoming a reality. 

As of now, playoff matchups head into as many overtimes as needed rather than a shootout. While that can be draining for players, Oshie believes it is a more genuine way to determine results in the postseason. Hockey is a sport that forces a team to come together as a whole, and he feels that shootouts take that away.

“Selfishly I’d love to see it. But I just look back and see some of the games that went to five overtimes and played past midnight," Oshie told NHL on NBC during a re-airing of his performance in the 2014 Olympics. “In the playoffs you need everyone on the ice, everyone doing their job. The shootout just feels a little bit more one-on-one.”

"So I don’t think it has a place in playoffs," he added.

As Oshie noted, he could see the fun and excitement in having shootouts in the playoffs due to his personal success experiences in those moments. Yet, his time in postseason runs, including Washington's 2018 championship has given him a larger perspective on the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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The Capitals' Stanley Cup run was filled with grueling moments, but the success came from the team's effort altogether. Individual performances sparked big moments, but the Capitals were only as good as the sum of all their parts. To take that away in the biggest of moments is something that Oshie sees as wrong for the sport and the players who worked hard to get there.

“It’s just, after winning, I think you realize how much you need everybody playing well and so I think everyone deserves to play in those big moments," Oshie said.

So, while Oshie loves participating in late-game heroics, he'll take his chance at an overtime goal rather than a shootout. He does, however, understand that the continuation of the golden goal format could lead to more games with multiple extra periods. Though he is okay with those happening in place of a shootout, he also knows that he probably just talked himself into a lot more of those situations in the future.

“Watch I’ll go to like a five-overtime game and be dying an need an IV," Oshie joked. "And maybe change my tune.”

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