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Alex Ovechkin on pace to break NHL record?

Greg Wyshynski
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Alex Ovechkin shoots the puck.

Like, a lot.

He’s led the NHL in shots on goal every year of his career save for one – 2011-12, when he let his friend Evgeni Malkin wear the crown for a season with 339 shots. Ovechkin has three of the top 10 highest shots-on-goal seasons in NHL history: 2005-06 with 425; 2007-09 with 446; and his massive 528-shots-on-goal campaign in 2008-09, when he netted 56 goals.

Ovechkin’s goal-scoring pace at the moment is absurd: 32 goals in his last 31 regular-season games, including 10 in 10 this season. Project this goal-per-game run for an 82-game season, and you’re looking at Ovechkin having the fifth-best goal-scoring season in NHL history, looking up only to names like Gretzky, Hull and Lemieux.

The chances of this happening are, of course, rather slim, even with the way the Adam Oates power play keeps clicking for the Washington Capitals. Even in Ovechkin’s most offensively lethal campaign – his 65 goals in 2007-08 – he had a stretch of seven games without netting one, which no doubt sparked criticism of his desire, leadership and failure to be Sidney Crosby.

But the shots … they hardly waned. And this season has been no different.

Adam Kimelman of NHL.com recently looked at Ovechkin’s shot totals, prior to his six shots and a goal against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night:

He's on pace for a career-high 556 shots -- 28 more than his previous high of 528 in 2008-09, and 110 more than the 446 he needed to score 65 in 2007-08.

While more shots on goal doesn't automatically equate to more goals, Ovechkin never has been more accurate than he's been this season, with a 14.8 shooting percentage; his previous best was 2007-08, when he scored on 14.6 percent of his shots en route to 65 goals. His career shooting percentage is 12.2.

Obviously there will be dips in Ovechkin's production during the season. But he's always been a high-volume shooter -- he has at least five shots in six of nine games this season, including 11 Oct. 3 against the Calgary Flames -- so in the Capitals' up-tempo attack, and considering Ovechkin averages more than 21 minutes of ice time per game, 556 shots certainly is possible. And if he hits that total even with his career-average accuracy, it equates to 68 goals.

Sixty-eight goals would give Ovechkin the best season of sniping since Mario's 69 (it’s hilarious!) in 1995-96.

But 556 shots on goal would shatter the all-time NHL record for shots in a single season.

It’s Phil Esposito’s record now, thanks to his massive 550-shot performance in 1970-71 with the Boston Bruins. He netted 76 goals that year for a 13.8 shooting percentage.

As of Thursday night, Ovechkin is on pace to challenge that, projected for 549 shots if he plays the full 82 games for the Washington Capitals.

Therein lies the rub(s).

Ovechkin has played a full season three times, including last season’s lockout-truncated campaign. Twice he’s played 79 games; his lowest total was 72 games in 2009-2010, which included a pair of 2-game suspensions and a little thing called “the Olympics.”

With the amount of stress, strain and time dedicated to Sochi this year for Ovechkin, it’s hard to imagine he’s going to play the full 82.

But even if he does, and his shot totals end up getting him over 550, we come back to a classic conundrum for sports fans: Do we honor the sum or the averages?

Espo’s shots on goal average in that record season was 7.051 per game over 78 games. Let’s say Ovechkin hits 556 in 82 games; welp, that’s 6.780 and still behind Espo’s accomplishment.

But that’s usually not how we do things in tabulating NHL records, which is why Mario gets eternally jobbed out of his incredible accomplishments.

We love bit, fat, literal stars in our record books. And if Ovechkin hits 556 shots in a single season, his name will be in them.

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