Ovechkin claims goal-scoring lead as Capitals ascend

Alex Ovechkin scored the two biggest goals of Tuesday’s overtime victory against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Washington Capitals captain tied the game midway through the third period and ended it in overtime, scoring his NHL-leading 25th and 26th goals to give Washington its third straight victory. At 32 years old and nearing 600 career goals, Ovechkin doesn’t appear to be slowing down. And his best might be yet to come.

Ovechkin already has an incredible seven 50-goal seasons to his name and sitting on 26 at the halfway point of the 2017-18 campaign puts him on pace to record another one. He is one goal in front of fellow Russian sniper Nikita Kucherov and two ahead of Anders Lee for the league goal-scoring lead, and he has the Capitals on track for a third consecutive Metropolitan Division title following an inconsistent start.

Washington was 5-6-1 at the end of October and didn’t make up much ground in November, but a 10-2-2 December vaulted the Capitals back into their more familiar spot contending for the division lead, and Ovechkin led the team with 16 points in the month. As a result of that December surge, Washington sits two points ahead of the New Jersey Devils (who have two games in hand) and four clear of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

January is a relatively light month for the Capitals, with Tuesday’s win over the Hurricanes one of only 10 games on their schedule, so the fate of their season will most likely be decided during a busy February and March, with 14 contests in each month. If Ovechkin doesn’t slow down in the final months of the season, Washington looks capable of securing another division title and entering the playoffs with a favourable home-ice situation. One good sign for Ovechkin is his shot rate, which has improved after dropping last season when he scored just 33 goals. Ovechkin is on pace for more than 360 shots in 2017-18, which would be closer to the totals he would amass in his 50-goal seasons than the 313 he finished with last year.

Ovechkin’s strong season was acknowledged by fans on Wednesday when they voted him one of four All-Star captains. Should Ovechkin reach 50 goals again this season, he would pass 600 career goals in the process, and become the oldest player to score 50 since Jaromir Jagr did it as a 34-year-old in 2005-06. It would also be Ovechkin’s fourth 50-goal season in the last 5 years. But the real challenge for both Ovechkin and Washington remains in the playoffs, where the Capitals have been unable to advance past the second round.