Detroit — Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals’ future Hall of Famer, came into Friday’s game against the Red Wings with 752 goals.
That’s 142 behind Wayne Gretzky, who finished his illustrious career with 894. In between the two on the all-time list are Gordie Howe (801) and Jaromir Jagr (766).
Ovechkin is 36. He is having an eye-catching season, with 22 goals entering Friday’s game.
Can Ovechkin ultimately pass Gretzky as the game’s greatest goal-scorer?
“He definitely has a good chance,” said Wings coach Jeff Blashill after Friday’s morning skate. “Wayne is on record as saying he thinks he will. Obviously there’s unpredictability in life, certainly today’s game in regard to health and all that stuff.
“But he can score as good today as when I came into the league as an assistant coach.”
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That was the 2011-12 season, and Ovechkin had already established himself as one of the elite players in the NHL.
What struck Blashill when entering the league, and seeing Ovechkin on the ice, was the size of Capitals’ winger (6-foot-3, 238 pounds).
“If you haven’t seen Alex Ovechkin play live, you don’t understand how big he is,” Blashill said. “He’s a huge, huge man, so that was one of the biggest things I realized when I was first on the bench and you see him at ice level. He’s wide and strong and big, so that allows him such great strength to fight people off and still shoot.
“At that point he was already an elite goal scorer in the league, and he’s certainly as good a scorer today as he was then. He’s just a guy that can shoot the puck from anywhere and it goes in, and it’s incredible.”
The size, plus possessing one of the more lethal shots ever in the game — particularly a nearly unstoppable one-timer from the dot on the power play — have helped make Ovechkin a long-time force.
“He has such as great release and he can shoot it from anywhere,” Blashill said. “A lot of guys need a real good pass to shoot one-timers, but he can shoot it from any type of sphere around his body.”
Not losing structure
Not having played a game for two weeks because of COVID-19 protocols and an extended holiday break, the Wings immediately jump back into the schedule with three home games in five days.
The Wings didn’t really lose many man-games to the virus shutdown because the NHL had already began closing things down before many of their players landed on the protocol list.
The Wings are hoping that will help the team structure on the ice, after a lengthy layoff.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate to have not many guys miss many games,” forward Sam Gagner said. “If they have, it’s been one or two guys out at certain times. That’s been a good thing in terms of our structure. Regardless of who you’re playing with or what your role is, our coaching staff has done a really good job of laying out what’s expected of us, and what our team systems are and how we operate with them.
“It’s really important for guys to get back to that right away coming out of the break and not miss a beat.”
Blashill has been pleased with the way rookie defenseman Moritz Seider has learned when to rush up the ice, and when to lay back, basically knowing when there is a prime scoring opportunity and when there isn’t.
“He has great hockey instincts,” Blashill said. “The goal against New Jersey (last game before the break), it was the (Tyler) Bertuzzi goal, when he (Seider) stood up in the neutral zone to pick off the pass. He’s done that a number of times. He’s like a safety in football, he reads where the puck is going and he’s able to meet the puck and pick it off and go up the ice and make a play.
“He’s definitely made some real good players, maybe they are subtle, but they are elite-level plays.”
… With all the Wings’ forwards now back and healthy, there will be a question of what to do with Joe Veleno. Unless Veleno can carve out a regular spot in the lineup, it’s doubtful the Wings will let him sit or play few minutes, when he can play big, meaningful minutes in Grand Rapids.
“That’s a conversation between myself and (general manager) Steve (Yzerman),” Blashill said. “Steve would ask me where I’d have him and then ultimately if Steve thinks it’s best for him to develop with more ice, depending on where I have him and what roles I have him slotted in, then certainly he might make that decision to say, ‘If that’s the case then I want to send him down.’
“Ultimately, we want Joe to develop. So whatever is best for Joe’s development is what we’ll ultimately decide and that’s for further conversation.”