Alex Ovechkin becoming just the third NHL player with 800 goals put him on the verge of taking his next big step in hockey history.
Ovechkin is just two goals past Gordie Howe for second on the career list. “Mr. Hockey” is the only player between Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 that seemed unattainable for a long time.
The longtime captain of the Washington Capitals remains very much on track to challenge the “Big One.”
Mark Howe told Ovechkin exactly that when they sat down last week.
“I said, ‘I know you’re going to pass Gordie, congratulations, but you have to have your sights set on No. 99,'” Howe recalled Wednesday, referring to Gretzky’s longtime jersey number.
“Because once you start getting close and once you see that it’s within reach, it makes it a huge motivating factor.”
But first, numbers 801 and 802, which Ovechkin could score as soon as Thursday night at home against the Dallas Stars.
The Capitals also host the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey night in Canadano less – on Saturday and Gordie’s longtime former team, the Detroit Red Wings, on Monday night.
READ MORE: Ovechkin ties Jagr for 3rd on all-time NHL scoring list as Capitals defeat Flames 5-4
“Let’s take it step by step,” Ovechkin said Tuesday night in Chicago after reaching the 800-goal plateau with a hat trick that earned him a standing ovation. “That’s a big number.
“This is the best company you can ever imagine since you started playing hockey, with Gordie (and Wayne) – 800, I’m the third person to ever score that many goals.”
Mark Howe, Gordie’s youngest son and himself a Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman and longtime scout, fondly remembers Gretzky asking his father to join him in his approach to the old record in March 1994 and knows that she parents would fully support Ovechkin if they were still alive.
It was another message to Ovechkin, whom Howe made a point to speak to in person instead of simply recording congratulatory video messages.
“I said, ‘If Gordie and (his wife) Colleen were here, they’d support you 100 percent,’ and there’s no question about that,” Howe said. “I said, ‘The Howe family, we’re pulling for you. We’re rooting for you.”’
Gretzky is openly rooting for Ovechkin to break his record, something that would require 95 more goals for the greatest goal scorer of this generation who is 37 and producing at a rate never seen by a player this age.
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Ovechkin has three years left on the contract he signed in 2021 with an eye on Gretzky’s mark. At his pace this season, he would surpass 50 goals and put him 60 or so away from the record.
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Another 50-goal season would be Ovechkin’s 10th, passing Gretzky in that department. Mark Howe isn’t betting against Ovechkin to get to 895.
“It’s his health and it’s his passion for the game,” Howe said. “As long as he has passion and he’s out there fighting, competing, he’s going to score his share of goals.
“And whether it takes two years, three years, four – whatever it takes – but as long as he still has a love and a passion for the game, yes, then that record will be broken.”
Counting beyond the NHL, Howe also had 174 regular season goals in the World Hockey Association, the pro league Gretzky broke in, scoring 46 times in more than two years. Ovechkin also scored 55 goals in the Russian Super League/Continental Hockey League.
Howe’s mark, which stood for 14 years since he retired in 1980 at the age of 52, is another rung for Ovechkin, who has passed Phil Esposito, Marcel Dionne, Brett Hull and Jaromir Jagr to move into third place to move.
Ovechkin already holds records for most goals scored on the road and the power play and with the same franchise.
READ MORE: Ovechkin scores twice, breaks Gretzky’s road goal record as Capitals blank Canucks 5-1
After another locker room celebration of a milestone by Ovechkin, Capitals coach Peter Laviolette noted, “There’s something every night.” And much of that is because Ovechkin has separated himself in the pantheon of the sport’s best at putting the puck in the net.
“That’s what great hitters do,” Laviolette said. “They know where to go. I think they know where to be. I think they know where the puck is going. I think they have a knack for getting it off their stick. I think they have great detail in the execution of the actual shot.
“You don’t get there by luck, that’s for sure.”
Mark Howe knows this and believes his father would have a deep appreciation for Ovechkin, much like his peers during Gordie’s heyday more than half a century ago. It’s a little different in that Gretzky idolized Howe before Ovechkin was born, but Mark was struck by something the superstar Russian winger said during a joint interview.
‘Alex, he says, ‘Well, yes, his name is ‘Mr. Hockey,’ he has to mean something,” Howe said. “Dad earned his stripes mainly in the 50s and 60s, but I think his name is still big in hockey.”
Hockey fans say goodbye to Gordie Howe
So will Ovechkin’s long after he passes Howe and takes his best shot at Gretzky.
– With files from Jay Cohen, The Associated Press
© 2022 The Associated Press