Ovechkin sets out on the hunt for Gretzky’s record

ARLINGTON, Virginia – Alex ovechkin mentioned that he expected to run into obstacles in his pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s record-breaking goal even before sustaining an injury that puts his appearance in the Washington Capitals’ opener against the New York Rangers in doubt. Capital One Arena Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; TNT).

“You don’t have to look too far ahead,” Ovechkin said at the start of training camp. “One game at a time, one step at a time. « 

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The left winger enters his 17th season in sixth place in NHL history with 730 goals, 164 short of Gretzky’s mark of 894. He will have to score an average of 33 goals per season during his five-year contract initialed with Washington on July 27, when Gretzky’s record was to serve as his motivation.

The 36-year-old forward led the Capitals with 24 goals in 45 games last season despite missing 11 games, the highest for him since joining the NHL. That’s a pace of 44 goals in an 82-game season, the number of games scheduled for the NHL this season after a 56-game campaign due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ovechkin trained for the first time on Tuesday since injuring himself trying to hit the Philadelphia Flyers forward Travis Konecny during Washington’s final preseason game on Friday.

This is the type of injury Gretzky was talking about when he described the biggest obstacle Ovechkin will face in pursuit of his record.

« Obviously you have to be a little lucky, in the sense of staying away from the infirmary as much as possible, » Gretzky said on Oct. 6. And I don’t just want to talk about missed games due to injuries. I am also talking about persistent injuries, stiffness in the knee, ankle or shoulder for example, injuries that do not prevent us from playing. « 

Ovechkin’s durability throughout his career has been almost as impressive as his ability to score goals. Prior to sustaining a groin injury that forced him to miss seven out of eight games between April 24 and May 8 last season, Ovechkin had not missed a single game with an injury since lower body discomfort prevented him from playing a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on March 5, 2015.

Prior to last season, in which he also missed four games due to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, Ovechkin had never missed more than four games since missing 10 in 2009-10. , including six due to an upper body injury and four due to two suspensions of two parts each.

Prior to last season, Ovechkin had won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer in the previous three seasons, for a total of nine since the start of his career. He notably finished tied with David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins in 2019-20 with 48 goals in 68 games before the regular season was cut short due to the pandemic.

With his next goal, Ovechkin will join Marcel Dionne (731) in fifth place among snipers in history. He’s missing 11 goals to tie Brett Hull (741) for fourth, 36 to catch Jaromir Jagr (766) for third and 71 to tie Gordie Howe (801) for second.

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Since admitting that Gretzky’s record pursuit played a role in the length of his new contract, Ovechkin has tried to lower expectations on it. His teammates are however thrilled by the possibility of being privileged witnesses of this historic quest.

« It’s so cool, » said his trio mate Tom wilson. To be able to watch him play every day, to have the best seats to see him, to give him the puck every once in a while … since I’ve been here, it’s really one of the coolest things to have been able to follow his path. . Looks like he’s breaking a record every two weeks. I know it will be very pleasant. « 

Ovechkin’s priority is to help the Capitals add another Stanley Cup championship to the one won in 2018. However, it is a given that the attention that will be paid to his quest will grow stronger after each of the goals. that he will score.

« I’ve said it before: if anyone has a chance to break this record, it’s him, » noted the Capitals center. Nicklas Backstrom, who will start the season on the long-term injured list with a hip injury. “It’s the type of motivation he has, and the type of scorer he is. « 

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