WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin tries not to pay attention to where he stands among the top goal-scorers in NHL history, but with each goal he scores — and each legend he passes — that’s becoming more difficult.
On Monday, Ovechkin scored two goals in a 2-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena, the first his 685th NHL goal to pass Teemu Selanne for 11th place in League history.
With the two goals, the 34-year-old left wing has 686 goals and could soon enter the top 10 in NHL history. He’s four behind Mario Lemieux, who is 10th with 690 goals, six behind Steve Yzerman for ninth (692), and eight behind Mark Messier for eighth (694).
“Yeah, it’s unbelievable names,” Ovechkin said. “When it’s going to happen, it’s going to be a historical moment. But I’m not going to concentrate on that. I’m just concentrating on playing hard, doing what I can do, and we’ll see what happens.”
Selanne offered his congratulations on Twitter and in a video played on the Capital One Arena video scoreboard.
“You’re going to score a lot more goals,” Selanne told Ovechkin in the video.
Ovechkin, who is third in the NHL with 28 goals this season, appreciates the company he’s in. Selected by Washington with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, Ovechkin played against Selanne six times before he retired in 2014 after playing 21 NHL seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche.
Selanne led the NHL in goals three times, including when he scored 76 as a rookie with Winnipeg in 1992-93.
“He was a scoring machine out there,” said Ovechkin, who has led the NHL in goals eight times. “It seemed like he was invisible, but he always had the puck on his stick and he always shot the puck so well.”
The one NHL game Ovechkin played against Lemieux is one of his favorite memories despite Washington losing 5-4 to Lemieux’s Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 22, 2005. Ovechkin, who was a 20-year-old rookie, had an assist while Lemieux, who was 40 and in his final NHL season, did not have a point.
But it was about the experience for Ovechkin, who grew up in Moscow admiring Lemieux, who led the NHL in goals three times during his 17 NHL seasons.
“He was one of my favorite players,” Ovechkin said. “When I saw him on the ice, it was a tremendous moment for me.”
It’s understandable that Ovechkin doesn’t remember the one game he played against Yzerman, which also came during the 2005-06 season. Ovechkin scored his 18th goal and had an assist in a 4-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 9, 2005, but Yzerman, who was 40 at the time and in his 22nd and final NHL season, left after playing 6:38 because of a groin injury.
Ovechkin said his memories of Yzerman are limited to, “He was the captain of Detroit. The Russian Five, of course. Basically, that’s it.”
Ovechkin knows well the role the Russian Five of forwards Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, and defensemen Viacheslav Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov, played in the Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup in 1997. That it took Yzerman until that season, his 14th in the NHL, to win the Cup for first time (before also winning it in 1998 and 2002) led to some comparisons to Ovechkin, who took until his 13th season to win the Cup for the first time in 2018.
“I think it’s only you guys who think about that. Not us,” Ovechkin said. “We just do our jobs.”
Ovechkin never had the chance to play against Messier, who retired after 25 NHL seasons prior to the start of training camp in 2005. Ovechkin remembers hearing some comparisons, though, because, like Messier, he likes to play with a physical edge.
“He’s Mark Messier. He was one of the toughest guys out there,” Ovechkin said. “It’s always fun to hear people, they always try to compare that I’m like that guy or that guy. But to be in that category with those names is something special.”
It’s special for Ovechkin’s teammates too. Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who has assisted on 255 of Ovechkin’s 686 goals, enjoys watching his longtime linemate make history on a seemingly nightly basis.
“The last one or two years, I feel like every game he’s breaking something,” Backstrom said. “No one will be happier than us if he can keep doing that. He’s only 34, so he’s got plenty of years left and I feel like he can climb higher.”
After Ovechkin passes Messier, his next milestone would be to join the NHL’s exclusive 700-goal club. Ovechkin, who wears No. 8, would fittingly be the eighth player to reach that number, joining Mike Gartner (708), Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731), Brett Hull (741), Jaromir Jagr (766), Gordie Howe (801) and Wayne Gretzky (894).
“We’re fortunate, I say it all the time, in D.C. here to be able to watch a guy like this play for the Capitals is such a privilege for people around here, a legend in goal-scoring and what he’s done,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. “It’s fun to watch and watch him climb the ladder.”
With 35 games remaining, Backstrom believes Ovechkin will get to 700 this season. Ovechkin knows it’s within reach too.
“But again, I have a long way to go,” Ovechkin said. “And I hope 700 is not going to be my last number.”
What Ovechkin’s last number will be remains the biggest question. He’s often evasive when asked about the possibility of breaking Gretzky’s goal record but acknowledged to NHL.com last season, “I’m going to try to do it.”
In an interview with ESPN’s Linda Cohn in December, Ovechkin joked that he’d instantly retire if he passed The Great One. When asked about what he said to Cohn, Ovechkin laughed and added another joke about being more than 200 goals away.
“I’m going to have to play until I’m 60 if I want to break that record,” he said. “No, I’m joking. We’ll see.”