The significance of Alex Ovechkin’s 600th goal: Can he topple Gretzky?

NHL insider Luke Fox joins Starting Lineup to celebrate Alexander Ovechkin’s goal-scoring prowess, says he loves that he's still hungry to score goals, his drive and passion should be appreciated by us all.

Alex Ovechkin went into Monday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets tied with Patrik Laine for the league lead with 40 goals. By the end of the night, Ovechkin had outscored Laine 2-1 to take sole possession of the top spot, but also hit a career milestone as he reached 600 goals on his career.

It was another impressive and historical marker for the 32-year-old sniper.

Ovechkin reached the 600-goal mark in his 990th career NHL game, making him the fourth-fastest and third-youngest to the mark in the history of the league.

In an era where far fewer goals are scored than in the heydays of Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Brett Hull, Ovechkin stands out on a level that more closely compares to those Hall of Famers of the past than the top scorers of today. Since entering the NHL in 2005-06, Ovechkin has 195 more goals than the next-highest scorer, Sidney Crosby. And while Ovechkin averages 0.61 goals per game in his career, Steven Stamkos’s 0.50 average is a distant second for active players who have participated in at least 300 games.

According to NHL.com, some other significant notes around Ovechkin at 600:

• Ovechkin has scored the opening goal of a game 109 times, tied a game 112 times and put his team ahead 208 times (including 22 overtime goals). Additionally, Ovechkin has pulled his team within one goal 53 times and given the Capitals a two-goal lead on 112 occasions.

• Ovechkin has scored 44 of his goals in the opening five minutes of a game – including 10 in the first 60 seconds – and 76 in the last five minutes of regulation, with 35 of those coming in the final minute.

• Ovechkin’s 119 career multi-goal games are tied for 16th on the league’s all-time list (with Luc Robitaille); Jari Kurri and Bobby Hull share 14th place with 121 apiece, while Gretzky holds the record with 189. Since 2005-06, Ovechkin has 39 more multi-goal games than the next-closest player (Sidney Crosby: 80).

• The road to 600 goals has seen Ovechkin score in 46.2 per cent of his appearances (457 of 990 GP). That includes 99 contests with exactly two goals, 16 with exactly three goals and four with four goals – a total of 119 multi-goal performances (20 hat tricks)

It’s worth noting, too, that as much as 19-year-old Finn Patrik Laine is compared to Ovechkin because of the similarity in their release and for their propensity to score, Ovie still stands out. Though Laine has 77 career goals, which is the third-most ever scored by an NHL player in their teens, Ovechkin never played in the league before he turned 20. A late September birthday, what would have been Ovechkin’s rookie season was cancelled by the 2004-05 lockout and the following year he scored 52 as a first-year player.

And while Laine’s achievement is certainly impressive, he’s still well off the furious pace set by Ovechkin. While No. 8 became the fourth player in league history to hit 600 in less than 1,000 games, at Laine’s current pace, the Jet would hit roughly 540 in his 1,000th game.

Amazingly, it’s actually not unreasonable to compare Ovechkin to Gretzky as an all-time goal scorer. While “The Great One” had much better numbers early in his career, he last hit 40 goals in his age 30 season and the 30-goal mark in his age 33 season. At 32, Ovechkin has a shot to hit 50 for the eighth time in his career (one shy of Gretzky), and he hasn’t scored less than 32 in any season, shortened or not.

During the 2016-17 season, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman asked Ovechkin about the possibility of one day breaking Gretzky’s all-time NHL goals record of 894.

“I don’t think somebody will beat this record,” Ovechkin said at the time. “In this hockey right now, in this league, I think it’s impossible.”

If Ovechkin is able to chase down Gretzky, he has to make up most of his ground in the back half of his career and there are already signs his pace is catching up. While Gretzky hit 600 goals in 272 fewer games than Ovechkin, it took the Capitals star only 189 games to get from 500 to 600, whereas it took Gretzky 143 games to make that leg of the journey.

Gretzky scored 91 more goals in his career after turning 33. Ovechkin, who will be 33 at the start of next season, needs 295 more to pass Gretzky’s record. If he’s able to score eight more times in his final 13 games this season to hit 50 on the year, Ovechkin would need to average 36.875 a year over the next eight seasons, taking him through his age 40 season, to reach 895. Considering he’s only scored less than 36 three times in his career (once in a 48-game season), it’s not completely outrageous to suggest that passing Gretzky is a possibility.

It’s still a longshot, of course.

Health, more than anything else, may be the biggest factor behind where Ovechkin ends up on the all-time list when his career comes to an end — and he’s missed only 28 games in 13 seasons to date.

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