Alex Ovechkin's 2021 season was almost human. The nine-time Rocket Richard winner was essentially a non-factor in the goals race with 24. Auston Matthews finished atop the league with 41. The normally durable Ovechkin also missed 11 games, seven of which were due to injury.
At 35 years old, there was reason to wonder if this was the beginning of the inevitable decline that every player suffers in their career with age.
And then October happened.
With nine goals and 15 points in just eight games, Ovechkin has re-established himself as one of the top offensive players in the league.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise," John Carlson said. "He’s only done it for 17 other years, too. So maybe he had one down year out of 17 or whatever it is. So no, there’s no surprise from us.”
With the month of October now in the rear-view mirror, the 36-year-old Ovechkin is leading the league in goals. He has been held without a goal only once out of those first eight games and holds a two-goal lead over the five other players tied for second, the oldest of whom is 26.
"It's unbelievable," Justin Schultz said. "I don't think any of us are too surprised by that. He still comes to the rink every day and is one of the hardest workers and still has the best shot in the game."
But wait, it gets even more impressive than that.
In 2021, Connor McDavid led the league in points with 105. He was one of only two players to even pass 70 points on the year and held a whopping 21-point lead over Leon Draisaitl who finished second with 84. It was one of the most offensively dominant seasons in the history of the game.
Through October, McDavid once again leads the league in points with 16. Ovechkin, who is 12 years his senior, sits in second place just one point behind McDavid with 15.
The condensed 2021 season took its toll on Ovechkin as did the uncertain start date. Not knowing exactly when the season would begin really seemed to affect how a lot of players were able to prepare. With a full offseason to prepare and a start date in the calendar to work towards, Ovechkin clearly was able to take advantage and looks like his old self again.
"He came in in great shape, he had a great training camp," Laviolette said.
"It helps when you know what exactly is going to happen the whole year," Ovechkin said.
Ovechkin has already cemented himself as one of the greatest players of all time, but in the latter half of his career, he is writing a new chapter on what makes him so special. How dominant he is now at the age of 36 is truly remarkable as most players see their production and play decline precipitously long before that point.
It's a long season, there are still 74 more games to go and where Ovechkin finished statistically in October does not mean he will keep that production up into April. But it makes for one hell of a start.
Said Schultz, "We're not too shocked by it, but it's pretty cool to see, and I don't think he's going to slow down at all."