By Michael Blinn
Alex Ovechkin is one of the NHL's elite goal scorers, but this season he's taking things to another level, one just a handful of players have been to before him.
On Saturday night, the Russian winger potted his 20th goal in the Capitals' 22nd game of the season, increasing his League-leading total in a 2-1 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto.
At his current clip of 0.91 goals per game, Ovechkin is on pace for over 74 on the season - the highest since countryman Alexander Mogilny scored 76 with Buffalo in 1992-93. The total would shatter Ovi's personal best of 65, set in 2007-08, and displace Wayne Gretzky's 1984-85 season as the eight-best ever. Some have suggested that he could be the first players to hit the vaunted 50-goals-in-50-games mark since Brett Hull did it in back-to-back seasons in 1990-91 and 1991-92.
The Capitals are currently sixth in the league with 71 goals on the season, giving Ovechkin an incredible 28.1% of the team's total, just a shade under Pavel Bure's all time mark of 29.5%, set with the Panthers in 2000-01. Also a prolific shot-taker, the six-time All-Star has a League-high 123 on the season, an average of 5.59 per game, which would give him over 458 in an 82-game season, third-highest of all time, and would give him three of the top four all-time single-season shot totals, and four of the top ten. As well, his shooting percentage of 16.3 in 2012-13 is a career-high pace.
This shouldn't be a big deal for a guy who scored 272 goals and 529 points in his first five NHL seasons, but his performance stands as a rise back to prominence for a player that suffered under a revolving door of coaches and questions about his game beyond electrifying offense. From 2010-11 to 2011-12, his scoring totals dipped to 70 goals and 150 points - numbers that the majority of NHL players aspire to, but for the former No. 1 overall pick and two-time Richard Trophy winner as the top goal scorer, it marked a severe downturn.
Fortunately, the Capitals' hire of Adam Oates, the NHL's no. 17 all-time scorer, has been a boon to Ovechkin. To wit:since taking over before a lockout-shortened season, he's guided the right winger back to scoring at a clip more in line with those five seasons than the two more recent, including a 23-game tear down the stretch that saw him pot 23 goals and lead Washington up the standings to the Southeast Division title and a playoff spot.
This season, the Ovi-led squad is second in the Metropolitan Division with a 12-10-2 record, four points behind Pittsburgh for the top spot. While the goaltending tandem of Braden Holtby
and Michal Neuvirth
have struggled to turn raw talent into consistency
, the offense has its focal point back - and that's a good thing for the Capitals, the NHL, and with the Sochi Olympics fast approaching, host country Russia.