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Despite his absence, Alex Ovechkin’s presence still loomed large in St. Louis

Despite his absence, Alex Ovechkin’s presence still loomed large in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS--Alex Ovechkin was not present for the all-star festivities in St. Louis, but his presence was still very much felt by all who were on hand. As players and league officials gathered to celebrate the game and the season, there was no way to do that without Ovechkin’s name being brought up.

From Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi describing “The Goal” in which Ovechkin scored from on his back against the then Phoenix Coyotes as his favorite Ovi moment to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy comparing Ovechkin's one-timer to a “knuckleball,” Ovechkin’s name seemed to be on the lips of everyone who had gathered for all-star weekend.

“He's obviously one of the best to ever play,” Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes said. “Just breaking records now. He's one of those guys when you get on the ice with them, you kind of stare at him and it's Alex Ovechkin. You don't realize how big he is and how fast he is and stuff like that on TV, but when you get to see him in person that's kind of what you realize. Generational player.”

“I'm going to be looking back to playing against one of the best scorers in the league if not all-time so it's pretty cool,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said.

The fact that Ovechkin was a topic of conversation should come as no surprise. For those who had dared to wonder if Ovechkin was perhaps fading in the goal-scoring race or that his age was finally starting to catch up to him, he silenced all doubters with eight goals in the three games leading into the Capitals’ bye week.

“To be able to see Ovi up close and just see how special of a player he is, how special of a goal-scorer he is, it's truly amazing,” teammate T.J. Oshie said. “He just keeps scoring, he doesn't seem to show any signs of slowing down. Since I've been on the team, I think around almost five years now, Ovi hasn't changed. He hasn't lost a step, he hasn't gotten slower, his shot hasn't gotten softer, he hasn't had any less drive. If anything, more drive.”

Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak still leads the league in goals with 37, but that lead shrunk considerably thanks to Ovechkin’s red-hot play of late. He now sits just three goals behind the league lead with 34.

“I don't even know what to say anymore. It's amazing,” Pastrnak said. “He's unbelievable goal-scorer. He's proving it year after year.”

Pastrnak has virtually led the goal-scoring race for the entire season, but Ovechkin has won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the most goals the two straight seasons and in six of the last seven. The Bruins forward said he expects Ovechkin will be able to catch him and make it three in a row.

“My guess would be he's going to finish in front of me anyway so I'm just not even bothering myself with anything like that,” Pastrnak said.

But it’s not just the recent success that has everyone talking.

Ovechkin’s recent goal surge now has him tied for ninth all-time in goals scored and just eight goals shy of reaching 700 in his career.

Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who was victimized for goal No. 600, is hoping Ovechkin will make history against someone else this time.

“I hope I'm not there for the 700th,” he said. “A lot of video on that 600.”

Reaching 700 goals is a prestigious achievement in and of itself, and one that only seven other players have reached in the history of the NHL. But the excitement surrounding Ovechkin nearing another milestone centers around what this means for his quest to break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record.

Gretzky’s record for most career goals stands at 894. That mark has long been thought of as untouchable.

“Until now,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

“It's incredible,” he continued. “It's exciting. It's a testament both to Wayne's record that it seems to have been unapproachable until now and it's a testament to Alex Ovechkin and his amazing career so far and one that we hope continues for a number of years. Obviously his longevity, and he seems to be in great shape, will be a factor as to whether or not he can ultimately achieve that record.”

“I hope he can get close, just how exciting it is,” Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “I think he'll score 50 until he's 50 years old it seems like. That one-timer is not going away. Ovi's awesome for the game. It's so cool to see him get close.”

But with all the excitement that Ovechkin brings and all the talk of how his chase of Gretzky is good for the game comes the inevitable question: Should he have come to St. Louis to be a part of the All-Star Game?

While he may not be playing like it, Ovechkin is 34 years old which is not young for an NHL player. He has his sights set on another Stanley Cup run and the extra rest could be very beneficial for him. He has also participated in the All-Star Game seven times in the past so one could certainly argue that he has done enough to promote the game in the past.

On the other hand, Ovechkin was voted a captain by the fans and this is the second straight season he has elected not to go. This season, that decision is not coming off the heels of a long championship run and a short summer. His absence also means that Washington will be without him for the first game back from the break as he is required to serve a one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star Game.

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is 31 years old and this year’s game in St. Louis his ninth appearance. When asked about Ovechkin’s decision, he said that he understood why Ovechkin would choose not to go, but explained why he still felt it was important.

“I think everyone's got to make their own decision, you can respect his,” Kane said. “I mean, his team's in a good position. He feels he needs to rest for them to go on a long playoff run, that's his decision. I guess you can respect that too, but you look at his team, his team's first in their division, they'll make the playoffs, it's probably not that big of a deal for him to miss a game, right? For us, we're fighting for a playoff spot. I think it's an honor to be here. I think it's pretty special to create some memories here. Also, for me, I feel like I wouldn't want to miss a regular season game especially given the spot our team is in.”

Head coach Todd Reirden, who will be tasked with developing a game plan for Montreal without his star player, came to Ovechkin’s defense.

“Obviously it's a difficult decision and something that he spends a lot of time with,” Reirden said. “I think at this time of his career, he understands what he needs to do to make himself the best player he can for the second half of the year. In particular, to go on the run that we had two years ago. He felt like this was the last thing and it's obviously difficult to be missing him for a game. But his ultimate goal, 700's going to be great for him, but he wants to win another Stanley Cup and he feels like this gives him the best chance to do it, then I'm all in.”

With the decision made, fans will have to wait until Wednesday’s game against the Nashville Predators to watch Ovechkin take the ice again. But after passing Mario Lemieux and tying Steve Yzerman on the all-time goals list in the last game before the break, his proximity to 700 goals guarantees that Ovechkin will remain one of the big stories around the hockey world until then.

Said Oshie, “It's going to be fun to watch his career and see how many people he can climb on that all-time goals ladder.

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With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 8

With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 8

While we wait for the NHL to hopefully resume its season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the 20 best wins of the Capitals' season so far. Mark Zaner, producer for Caps Faceoff Live and Caps Overtime Live, has watched every game. His rankings continue with No. 8, a 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 13 that featured another milestone for the Great 8, a shutout for the rookie goalie and the 500th game of Tom Wilson’s career. 

WHAT HAPPENED 

Two players carried the Capitals on the evening. It was clear early on that Alex Ovechkin brought his “A” game. About 12 minutes into the first, Ovechkin started the Caps’ attack by carrying the puck into the zone and flipping it to the corner. Tom Wilson recovered and found Ovi back in front of the net. Ovechkin beat Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek five-hole to get Washington on the board. 

  

The Caps managed to draw four penalties on Carolina in the first period, and took advantage of the last one. John Carlson won a battle along the boards and sent the puck to Jakub Vrana at the blue line. Vrana passed to Alex Ovechkin in his office and Ovi did the rest. 

  

And that was all the scoring on the night. Ilya Samsonov made sure the lead stuck, stopping all 23 shots from Carolina. Tip of the cap to Mrazek who deserved a better fate in this game. Mrazek made the save of the night, using a “scorpion” move to deny Carl Hagelin a goal. 

 

MEMORABLE MOMENTS 

Samsonov had another stellar night, even if he didn’t have to do a whole lot. This was his first career shutout, and so far, the only shutout the Capitals have had all season. It was Samsonov’s 13th win in 15 games. He ran his win streak to eight straight. Over those eight games, Samsonov had a GAA of 1.62 and a save percentage of .942. His best save of the night came in the first on Jordan Martinook. 

  

The goalie controversy that had been simmering for a month boiled over after this game. Even though Todd Reirden never officially announced it, Samsonov became the effective #1 goalie when the team returned from the All-Star break. Braden Holtby would reclaim his spot later in February. 

 WHY IT WAS SIGNIFICANT 

We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of an amazing run for Ovechkin. His two goals against the Hurricanes were the start of a stretch of 14 goals in seven games. His first goal of the night was the 685th of his career, which passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time list. In the span of three weeks, Ovechkin would end up alone in eighth place with 698 career goals. 

WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT 

This game was also an important win for the Capitals because they were coming off their worst game of the season, a 5-1 loss to New Jersey. During that loss, Reirden called a timeout to rip into his team. The Capitals responded as expected to get back on the winning path. 

For Tom Wilson, this was career game No. 500. On Caps Overtime Live it led to a debate over favorite Tom Wilson moments. Instead of going with his goal in Game 4 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals, or perhaps another postseason goal, our Grant Paulsen went off the board a bit. Grant chose his fight with Brayden Coburn in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals. It was a fight that inspired twitter gifs and novelty t-shirts. 

 

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Nicklas Backstrom shares heartfelt thanks to doctors after birth of baby girl

Nicklas Backstrom shares heartfelt thanks to doctors after birth of baby girl

If someone has a baby and it's not posted on social media, did it actually happen? In this age of social media, most people seem to want to post all their major life events online as soon as they happen so it was a bit of a surprise on Wednesday when Nicklas Backstrom revealed on a conference call that his new baby, Alizee, was born a few days ago.

"Father of three now," he said. "We came home actually two days ago. Everything is great."

Alizee, who was due in April, is the third child of Backstrom and his fiancee, Liza Berg. The couple previously had one daughter and one son.

As joyous an occasion having a baby is, it is also nerve-racking given fears over the coronavirus. Having a baby means going to the hospital, but Backstrom had nothing but praise for the medical staff.

"I know it's been a lot of talk about the hospital people, how important they are," Backstrom said. "I think they did a great job with us. I know it's not the ideal situation to be in the hospital at this time, but everyone has sacrificed for them and many people delivered or in case they're sick, God bless them."

That makes three new little Caps babies in the month of March with Nick Jensen and T.J. Oshie also welcoming new additions to their families. That has made the team text chain pretty baby-heavy.

“Honestly I think our chat has been pretty quiet," Backstrom said. "Only post that I really notice is that we got three new babies so it has been baby pictures so everything is about that now while you are a stay at home dad.”

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