Alex Ovechkin's breathtaking opening night leaves teammates in awe again

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Ovechkin's breathtaking opening night leaves teammates in awe originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

A few moments after Hendrix Lapierre scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, Alex Ovechkin skated over to the bench, congratulated the 19-year-old and patted him on the helmet before sitting next to the youngster. Lapierre couldn’t hide his grin. 

Lapierre grew up in Quebec, Canada and idolized Ovechkin from an early age. He had a poster of the Russian superstar on his wall. He owned a Capitals jersey. And from the time Lapierre could put on skates, he watched from afar as Ovechkin tore up the NHL and continued to change the very nature of the sport in Washington. 

So it was fitting that, once Lapierre had his moment on his first night in the NHL, Ovechkin put on a show of his own that Lapierre got to see up close this time. 

Ovechkin scored twice in the third period to put the exclamation point on a Capitals 5-1 win in a season-opening win at Capital One Arena. In doing so he tied, and then passed, Marcel Dionne for 5th all-time in the NHL’s goal-scoring chase. Ovechkin now has 732 career tallies.

“You see a lot of things on TV,” Lapierre said. “Growing up you watch him play. But to see that in real life and to see the way he finds ways to score goals, it’s pretty impressive. I mean, he was a game-time decision. He comes in and scores two goals. He’s the greatest scorer of all time for a reason and to share the ice with him and to learn from him and to see how he acts in the room, it’s obviously pretty special.”

And if it wasn't abundantly clear by the raucous fans at Capital One Arena and the video tribute from Dionne himself, every goal Ovechkin scores over the course of the next few seasons will ramp up the intensity and drama of his chase to catch Wayne Gretzky. He’s now just nine goals away from Brett Hull’s total of 741. He’s 34 away from Jaromir Jagr’s total of 766. 

With 69 more goals, he’ll tie Gordie Howe for second all-time. And he’s now 162 off the mark of Gretkzy and a record many thought to be unreachable. 

"I just enjoy my time,” Ovechkin said postgame. “Of course it’s huge privilege being on that list, but as I say all the time, game by game, day by day."

Still, the rate at which Ovechkin, 36, scores goals boggles the mind with each and every time he puts the puck in the net. 

There are no active players besides Sidney Crosby (486 goals) on the all-time list in the top 50. Every player on the list ahead of him, including most of the players he’s steamrolled by, played in more seasons than Ovechkin did, too. 

“You definitely appreciate it,” T.J. Oshie said. “Sometimes I think you take for granted how often he scores. I saw the number of the goals, again, I feel like it’s been a while since I looked up and saw the actual number he was at. That’s a lot of goals. There’s a lot of really good players that never reach that many games. It doesn’t get old and it really is special to be here for these milestones, to be his teammate for these milestones.”

Before the league shutdown in March 2020, Ovechkin eclipsed the 700-goals mark but has since had his streak slowed, and stopped, by a global pandemic and an injury. Now, he appears back on track in his 17th NHL season.

“I've only been here a short time and it seems like every night we're acknowledging him for something, he's passing somebody by or he's doing something special,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said. “Tonight's a real big accomplishment to jump up the list like that.”

There are still 81 games left to play and, if past history is any indicator, he’ll move into third place all time sooner rather than later. Reaching second place by the end of the 2022-23 season isn’t out of the question either. Then it’ll be mass hysteria each and every night as he attempts to chase down The Great One's mark of 894. 

Admittedly, there’ll be plenty of time to discuss how far Ovechkin can, and will, rise up the goal-scoring ranks in the coming months and years — he's not going to reach even 800 goals this season. But that still doesn’t mean what’s happening with Ovechkin and the Capitals should be taken for granted. 

If Wednesday was any indication, he's not done cementing his place in history. He’s far from it.

“I joke around with him that I’m going to tell my grandkids that I played with the Great Eight,” Oshie said. “We’re joking around, but it’s definitely true. It’s really an honor to be there while he’s passing these legends of our game.”