When Alex Ovechkin buried one of his signature goals Tuesday night – a one-timer from the top of the circle on the power play – and it held up as the game-winning goal, he set the NHL record for most seasons of 10-plus game winners with five.
That alone would be enough for some to call him the greatest clutch scorer of all time. The problem is, however, that the game-winning goals statistic is flawed. For example, in a 10-1 beatdown, the player who scored the second goal would be credited with the game winner, even if that goal were scored two minutes into the contest. While technically speaking it does make it the game winner, it doesn’t necessarily mean the goal came at a time when it was absolutely critical.
And while that’s not the case when Ovechkin scored his latest game-winner, a goal that Washington needed as an insurance marker, you can be certain he’s scored a handful of game-winners that came early enough that they weren’t so much clutch scoring as they were Ovechkin doing what Ovechkin does.
So what, then, makes the Washington Capitals superstar a hero when his team needs him most?
Defining clutch scoring is difficult, but everyone can agree the biggest goals come when the score is tied, close or in the waning moments when desperation sets in and the goaltender is pulled. If you lump those all together, it paints a picture of Ovechkin as the kind of player that steps up when the pressure is at its peak.
Using War-On-Ice.com, it’s possible to look at every player who has suited up since the beginning of 2005-06 and break down their statistics by game situation. Doing this, you start to see there’s more to Ovechkin than simply a guy who scores in bunches.
From Oct. 2005 to present day, when playing 5-on-5 minutes with the score close, which means within a goal in the first two periods, Ovechkin is the third highest scoring player with 257 points. His goal total, a remarkable 131 with the score close, is far and away the highest, seventeen ahead of second place Jarome Iginla (114). In points, he trails only Henrik Sedin (266) and Joe Thornton (264).
Going further, at 5-on-5 when the score is tied at any point in the game, Ovechkin is again the leading goal scorer. Since 2005, he’s scored 79 goals to break tie games. The next closest player is Rick Nash (70), followed by a two-way tie for third between Sidney Crosby and Iginla (67). And when his team really needs a goal to bring things even, no player in the last decade has scored the way Ovechkin has.
Since 2005, when the Capitals are down by one, Ovechkin has registered 42 goals and 85 points, first- and second-most, respectively. Only Martin St-Louis has scored more points (91) that Ovechkin. Being able to score timely goals that draw his club even has, in a way, been one of Ovechkin’s strengths without us even knowing it.
But if there’s one situation that trumps all, it’s those last-gasp goals that make memories – the goals that come with the net empty and time winding down. In that situation, with the Capitals down by one and the goalie out of the net, no player can match Ovechkin’s seven goals and fifteen points. Many are close – four players are tied with six – but only Thornton, with three goals and 14 points is within three points of Ovechkin’s timely scoring.
So, why isn’t there more talk of Ovechkin’s penchant for clutch scoring? It might be because Ovechkin scores so often that we’ve almost ceased acknowledging how well timed some of his goals are. It could also be because we don’t often correlate the way he scores, by obliterating pucks past netminders, with the type of mad scramble clutch goals that remain on highlight film for decades.
One thing that’s for certain, though, is that if there’s one player you want pulling the trigger in a tight game, it’s Alex Ovechkin. He doesn’t just score booming goals – he scores the big ones. That’s why he’s the most clutch scorer in the game.