During the opening stages of the Washington Capitals 2013-14 season the team has had somewhat of a rocky start — their record is 5-5-0 — but this is not because of captain Alexander Ovechkin. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Russian came into camp deeply motivated, and has looked quicker and stronger than in any recent season. This good physical shape has resulted in Ovechkin being an absolutely stud statistically, as his 10 goals through 10 games is a record for the Capitals.
Undoubtedly, this has been an incredible start, but could it lead to a spot in the record books? Could Ovechkin score 50 goals in 50 games?
On the surface of things, this would look like a foolish question to even propose. After all, only five players have ever scored 50 goals in 50 games, and their names are Maurice Richard, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull, and all happen to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Each of these guys played in a time where scoring was much more commonplace — which doesn’t discount their accomplishment — whereas scoring has continuously dipped in the NHL to the point that scoring 50 in 50 would appear to be a pipe dream for any player in the league today.
But the thing is, Ovechkin is not a regular player. Not by a long shot. He is a proven sniper — 381 goals in 611 games will do that — who loves to shoot pucks into the back of the net more than anything else in the world.
Only once during his eight-year career has Ovechkin not led the league in shots on net, and if the start of this season has been any indicator, another shot on goal title will be picked up. The Russian sniper is on pace for a career-high 556 shots, which looks more likely to happen with every passing day as the result of playing with passive playmakers Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom.
Through 10 games, these two have combined to put 34 shots on goal, or just barely above half of the 67 shots Ovechkin has snapped off. This is not a downfall, though, as their 20 combined assists is indicative of two guys who have All-Star capabilities at distributing the puck, and know that they do not have to shoot the puck right while playing with an on-ice assassin.
Playing with these two has not only gotten Ovechkin more attempts to shoot the puck, but more scoring opportunities while shooting. This has been shown through his 14.8 shooting percentage thus far, which would rank as a career high — 0.2 percentage points above the 14.6 he compiled while scoring 65 goals in 2007-08 — and undoubtedly will have the right winger getting scoring chances even when he is personally not having a good night. As a natural born goal scorer, almost any chance that comes his way will be put in the back of the net, and plenty will come on a nightly basis.
As if playing with two of the best set-up men in the NHL and shooting at an unprecedented rate was not enough, Ovechkin will also be highly motivated by outside forces throughout the season. This is because he will be representing Russia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and has publicly stated in the past that he would do anything to lead his homeland to a Gold Medal. The effect of this is that Ovechkin will be working to keep his body in prime position through the start of the Olympics at the very least, which occurs after 58 games having been played in the 2013-14 season.
While many people will point to all of these factors indicating that Ovechkin will overcome history to become the sixth player to ever score 50 goals in 50 games and ignore them, I must recommend that you don’t do the same. By doing so, you will only be doubting the best player in the NHL today, while he is in the midst of a scary run — 32 goals in the last 31 regular season games — that will not be stopping anytime soon.