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Could Ovechkin ever catch Gretzky?


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 “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.”

MORE CAPITALS: Rave reviews for Soul On Ice: Past, Present & Future

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Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One is repping the district in a big way: by changing their logo to incorporate the Capitals' font and name. 

The new Capital One logo appears on the bank's websites and social media ahead of the Caps' Stanley Cup Final games, which begin on Memorial Day Monday in Vegas.

The McLean, Virginia, based bank recently purchased the naming rights to the Capitals' home arena, formerly known as "Verizon Center." And in the first year of its renaming, the Capitals have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. Coincidence? 

We've seen a small, Northern Virginia town change its name to "Capitalsville," and now Capital One Bank is all-in for the Caps.


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Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines. The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team.

Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since there drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than most NHL teams.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.