By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
Few players enjoy scoring goals as much as Alex Ovechkin and nobody in the NHL has scored more often in 2013 than the Capitals' captain.
Dating back to last January when the NHL returned from its second work stoppage in eight years, Ovechkin has scored 62 goals in 83 games during the calendar year. Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is a distant second with 45 goals in 86 games over the same period.
"My job is to score goals," Ovechkin said earlier this month. "That’s why I get paid and that’s why I'm still here. If I’m not scoring goals then I'm not helping my team to win the game. Of course I can do different things out there, but I think I'm pretty good at (scoring goals) and I just have to use it."
Ovechkin's offensive prowess in 2013 may have also produced the single best goal scoring year of his professional career. His 62 tallies in 2013 are a personal best for a single calendar year- two clear of the 60 goals he scored from Jan.-Dec. 2008- while his scoring rate of 0.747 goals-per-game in 2013 is the third highest of his career (0.760 GPG in 2009 and 0.759 GPG in 2008).
With three games remaining before the calendar flips to 2014, Ovechkin must score at least four more times to establish a new career-high for goals-per-game in a single year. His teammates wouldn't bet against him.
"When he wants to score goals it seems like he's got this uncanny ability to score not just one, but what's so memorable for me is that he scores them in bunches and he scores so many of the goals when we need them,' said Jason Chimera, Ovechkin's teammate of four years.
"I can try my (butt) off until the cows come home to score goals and not do it and he just goes out there and almost wills it in the net, so when you’re on his team, it's pretty special to be part of it."
While player turnover is inevitable over the course of a calendar year- which covers parts of two NHL seasons- among the constants in Ovechkin’s 2013 success has been the presence of head coach Adam Oates.
It was Oates who decided to switch Ovechkin's position last season from left wing to the right side. The idea was to give Ovechkin’s game, which had become ‘stale’ and ‘predictable’ according to General Manager George McPhee, a different look.
Oates wanted Ovechkin to generate more touches, with the hope that if Ovechkin touched the puck more often -- and in different areas on the ice -- he would be in better position to score different types of goals. Nearly a full year later, the results speak for themselves.
"I think his game has evolved where now he's in different positions to score," said teammate Brooks Laich. "Before, I think you if you saw a shot tracker of his shots and opportunities, it would be heavy one-sided and from certain spots whereas now I think it would be scattered all across the ice… so he's now dangerous anywhere on the ice. He's evolved as a goal scorer and he's changed to where now I think he’s harder to check. Before maybe he had some tendencies, but now you don't know where he’s going to be."
Ovechkin's 32 goals during last season's lockout shortened campaign were tops in the NHL and earned him his third career Maurice 'Rocket' Richard Trophy as the League's leading goal scorer. Ovechkin also won his third career Hart Memorial Trophy as NHL MVP and helped lead the Capitals to their fifth Southeast Division title in six years.
During the past calendar year, Ovechkin also set a new franchise record for most power play goals in Capitals history (138) and became the 89th player in NHL history to reach 400 career goals.
"The numbers are just staggering, it's unbelievable and it just seems now that every time we play a game, he's going to score a goal," Laich said. "Not only that, it's the way he scores them- forehand, backhand, rebounds, tips. I mean, obviously he has the incredible shot, but the guy is a treat to watch every day and he’s certainly a special player."
Below is a look at how Ovechkin's play from Jan.-Dec. 2013, compares to other calendar years from his NHL career:
GAMES: GOALS: GOALS-PER-GAME: POINTS:
- 2005: 36GP 23G 0.639 GPG 44 PTS
- 2006: 84GP 54G 0.643 GPG 112 PTS
- 2007: 82GP 51G 0.621 GPG 90 PTS
- 2008: 79GP 60G 0.759 GPG 113 PTS
- 2009: 75GP 57G 0.760 GPG 111 PTS
- 2010: 79GP 38G 0.481 GPG 101 PTS
- 2011: 77GP 34G 0.442 GPG 74 PTS
- 2012: 41GP 22G 0.537 GPG 34 PTS
- 2013: 83GP 62G 0.747 GPG 97 PTS