Things could have a funny way of playing themselves out for the Detroit Red Wings in Monday’s matchup against the Washington Capitals.
With Mark and Marty Howe in attendance, Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin on Monday night was looking to tie their father, Red Wings legend Gordie Howe, for second on the NHL’s all-time goals list at Capital One Arena in Washington. The magic number is goal No. 801, which, ironically, could come against Howe’s former team.
Ovechkin, 37, is seeking to surpass Howe and then set his sights singularly on chasing Wayne Gretzky’s record (894 goals). Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde said he hopes his team would take the mission of making sure Ovechkin didn’t tie Howe in a game against the Red Wings “a little personal” — but hey, if stopping Ovechkin was that easy, he wouldn’t have 800 goals.
“As coaches, it was brought up (Sunday) morning how we were kind of hoping for Ovi to score a couple last night,” Lalonde said. “But, I think that’s awesome, and again, I think it’s awesome for our guys to be competing in a moment like that.
Ovechkin, a Russian-born winger, became one of the all-time greats behind a series of hockey characteristics that could be boiled down as ‘explosive’ — his top-of-the-circle one-timer, heedless physicality and intense personality have combined to make him one of the most fascinating on-ice spectacles the sport has ever seen.
“When he started in, whenever it was, ’05-’06, whenever he started — he still changed his style of play a little bit from then. He was running around a lot more, being a lot more physical,” veteran Red Wings winger David Perron said.
“He still does at times, like, trust me, in playoffs, I’ve been on the other side of a couple hits, and it’s not easy. But he’s also found a way to be consistent scoring his goals. Obviously, on the power play, but he does it in different ways, too, now, so it’s pretty amazing what he’s doing.”
Howe, who died in 2016, was born in the small town of Floral, Saskatchewan in 1928. “Mr. Hockey” became the sport’s first “Greatest of All Time” by not only collecting points — and games played — like nobody before him, but also by playing as the type of nasty gentleman that has defined the game’s character for decades.
When Ovechkin broke into the league in 2005, there was seemingly no limit to the flamboyant goal celebrations in his bag — and “Hockey Night in Canada” commentator Don Cherry had a critical thought about every single one of them. Fellow active great and long-time Ovechkin rival Sidney Crosby, who broke into the league the same year as Ovechkin and famously carries a more old-school set of principles, once had this to say about Ovechkin’s celebrations early in their careers: “I don’t like it, personally, but that’s him. Like it or love it, that’s what he does. Some people like it; some people don’t. Personally, I don’t like it.”
None of the heat stopped “Ovi” from being “Ovi.”
In turn, Ovechkin was one of the first modern players to be celebrated for showcasing his love for the game with a theatrical personality — the reason Trevor Zegrases and Nikita Kucherovs of the world can roll their eyes and shoot back at talking heads who criticize how much fun today’s players seem to be having on the ice.
While Ovechkin and Howe came from different worlds, different eras, and took different approaches to the game, there is clearly no shortage of respect between them. At the end of the day, they each embody a generation.
“In a way, we’re all kind of cheering for him a little bit, as far as down the road. If he can beat that record, it would be a cool thing for the league,” Perron said. “That’s certainly a record that, 10 years ago, no one saw that it could ever be broken.”
Talking to the media after Monday’s morning skate, Ovechkin said the autographed photo he has of him and Howe is his most prized collectible — more beloved than memorabilia from Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan and autographed sticks from Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
”I met him once. It was at an All-Star game. Obviously, it was a long time ago,” Ovechkin said. “Probably, we were talking about the sticks, how different (hockey) sticks are.”
Things change. Stick curves, rules — you’d need more than two hands just to count all the new statistics that have been introduced to the game in recent years. And to a man, there aren’t a pair of hockey players who, in tandem, demonstrate where hockey has been and where it’s going better than Gordie Howe and Alexander Ovechkin.
On this night, they also remind us that hockey is, and always will be, about putting the puck in the back of the net.