ARLINGTON, Va. — Alex Ovechkin has scored 50 goals so regularly that finishing with 30-something was a disappointment.
Ovechkin is responsible for seven of the 20 times any player has scored 50 goals in a season since he entered the league in 2005. As Washington Capitals teammate T.J. Oshie pointed out, Ovechkin is “a pure goal-scorer, the best of our time,” and his 558 career goals are well ahead of everyone else in the NHL in that time.
The challenge now is for Ovechkin to keep it up going into his 13th season at age 32. His 33 goals last season were his fewest in an 82-game season since 2010-11, and now the Capitals need him to up the ante after several key offseason losses.
“Last year’s the minimum,” general manager Brian MacLellan said Tuesday. “I think he can get more goals than that.”
But how many goals are realistic? Coach Barry Trotz thinks “you keep the bar at 50” until Ovechkin doesn’t get there.
The Russian superstar who will start the season on Washington’s second line alongside countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov still thinks 50 is possible even as it becomes a rare milestone.
“Why not?” Ovechkin said. “You have opportunities to score goals. You have chances. You just have to put the puck in. Obviously without shots, you can’t score. If you have a chance, you have to put it in.”
No one has put the puck in better over the past decade or so than Ovechkin, whose season goal totals are 52, 46, 65, 56, 50, 32, 38, 32, 51, 53, 50 and 33. With the Capitals still aiming to win the Stanley Cup after losing forwards Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik and defensemen Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and Nate Schmidt, Ovechkin and the other well-paid players must pick up the slack.
MacLellan expects Ovechkin’s ice time to go up since Washington’s depth went down. With that comes the expectation for more production.
“I’m a goal-scorer, and my job to score goals,” Ovechkin said. “The more goals, more points I’m gonna get is gonna be much better.”
Ovechkin scored just 16 of his 33 goals last season at even strength and the rest on the power play, the lowest percentage of his career. Now the challenge is for him to increase that number at 5-on-5, which Trotz thinks will be the difference between Ovechkin scoring 35 goals or 50.
MacLellan hopes splitting Ovechkin and top center Nicklas Backstrom forces opponents to choose who to put their top defenders against. Maybe Ovechkin can feast on some slightly inferior competition and pile up the goals.
“It’s hard to generate space out there,” MacLellan said. “For Alex, it’s using his feet to generate space, trying to create room physically. Instead of waiting for the puck, searching out the puck and creating more that way I think would improve his 5-on-5 game.”
Ovechkin has led the league in power-play goals the past five seasons, so that’s not the problem. Calgary goaltender Eddie Lack even jokingly tweeted that the league should outlaw shooting from the “Ovizoid” in the faceoff circle to slow Ovechkin down.
But for Trotz to expect Ovechkin to approach 50 goals, which no player did last season, it’ll come down to scoring at 5-on-5.
“It’s harder and harder in this league, but he’s still a talent and he’s still playing with good players and that shot hasn’t gone away yet,” Trotz said. “If we can get him into areas, dangerous areas, to score, if he can get himself into dangerous areas to score, then he’s going to score more goals.”
NOTE: The Capitals signed Alex Chiasson to a $660,000, one-year deal after the 27-year-old winger made the team on a training camp tryout.
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