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Alex Ovechkin Is Vintage

10:36 AM EST on December 14, 2022

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 13: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals poses for a photo after scoring a hat-trick and his 800th career goal, following the game against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on December 13, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)
Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

A funny thing about milestones is that the more you reach, the fewer there are to rack up. Be great enough for long enough, as Alex Ovechkin has, and the magic numbers start to get rarer and rarer since barely anyone had come before to blaze those trails. Approach sui generis status and context becomes harder to find. Eight hundred goals later and Ovi is no one but Ovi.

Eight hundred goals is not in itself a significant number—while just two NHL players had ever reached the mark before Tuesday, the same could be said of 799, or 801. But we humans do so love our round numbers. The real magic of 800, to me, is that it wasn't even really in the conversation before puck drop; he was still three goals away. But in Chicago, at age 37, it was classic Ovechkin out there—a shot through traffic from the left side, cleaning up some garbage in front of the net, and suddenly he was one away. Goal number 800 brought its own pomp: amid a shower of hats, with a road crowd chanting his name.

The man keeps rolling. Ovechkin is now one tally shy of Gordie Howe for second all-time (and he needed 443 fewer games to reach 800 than Howe did) and 94 behind Wayne Gretzky for first. That record once seemed unbreakable; now it feels something like inevitable. "Let's take it step by step," Ovechkin cautioned last night, but I refuse to.

And even Ovechkin, usually so even-keeled, sounded a little overwhelmed at what he's already achieved. "It's the best company you ever can imagine," he said, "since you start playing hockey to be connected to Gordie. Eight hundred, I'm the third person who ever scored that many goals."

However, do not let his pursuit of history distract you from the magic of what he's doing right now. With seven goals in his four games, Ovechkin is now on pace for 53 goals this year. Fifty-three! In his 18th NHL season! He gets older but he does not age. This sort of sustainability seemed unlikely in someone who early in their career was routinely criticized for relying on the regular season to play himself into shape each year. But he is comfortable in his big body, and it happens to be one designed for durability and for the very specific skill set that has allowed him to torment goalies for nearly two decades.

The NHL put together a highlight reel of every single goal Ovechkin has ever scored, and it is, as you'd expect, a long video. So don't feel like you need to watch the entire thing—skip around (and marvel at those hideous old Caps jerseys) and see what jumps out. It's the consistency, for me: Ovi goals from 2008, on the whole, look an awful lot like Ovi goals from 2022.

He has always been the mayor of the left circle, has always used his size and strength to clear a path to the net, has always had an unmatched intelligence for being in the right place at the right time. He does not do so much of what would traditionally be called "creating"; dazzle has never been his game. If you have a shot that heavy with that level of accuracy, your blade can be its own creator.

All this stuff ages well. It's less reliant on reflexes or even physicality, and puts its owner at less risk of injury, than the game of (say) a Sidney Crosby. And even if the normal aging curve kicks in on a delay, a 37-year-old who's still scoring 50 goals a season should be able to put up 20-goal seasons until he's—what—50 years old? That's an exaggeration, but by very little. If you were to design from scratch a hockey player to score a goal, there are a lot of different body plans and skill sets that work. But if you were to design a hockey player to score the most goals, it'd probably look a lot like Alexander Ovechkin.

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