Ovechkin makes life miserable for goalies on road to 802 goals

    Ovechkin makes life miserable for goalies on road to 802 goals

    Jake Oettinger made that clear after preventing Washington Captials forward Alex Ovechkin from scoring Dec. 15, keeping him at 800 goals, one shy of Gordie Howe for second on the NHL all-time goal list.

    “(Coach) Pete (DeBoer) said before that these next two goals that he’s going to score, the whole team’s going to come off the bench, so obviously I don’t want that to happen — not against us,” Oettinger said. “He can do that stuff another night and it’s always fun playing one of the best to ever do it and it’s a fun challenge and we stepped up.”

    Oettinger has allowed three of Ovechkin’s 802 NHL goals, part of a fraternity of 166 goalies who have been beaten at least once by the Great 8.

    As it turns out, David Rittich of the Winnipeg Jets gave up goal No. 801 on Friday (No. 802 was an empty-net goal), leaving Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals as the next record no goalie wants to be part of. But the reality of facing a shot that can reach 100 miles an hour while also curving, is there’s often not much a goalie can do about it.

    Knowing that makes it a little easier to swallow being part of hockey history, but not necessarily in the moment. It can take a little while to accept being part of an Ovechkin milestone.

    “I did the whole goalie routine after he scored 500, turn around, grab your water bottle, and when I turned back I had no clue the whole team would be on the ice celebrating, so that was the biggest shock,” said Andrew Hammond, who was in goal for the Ottawa Senators when Ovechkin scored his 500th on Jan. 10, 2016. “Looking back now, I’m still not happy it went in — and he got 501 that game too — but I guess to be one of the 166 people he’s scored on, there’s worse things to be known for.”

    Vancouver Canucks goalie Spencer Martin felt similarly after giving up two goals to Ovechkin in a 5-1 loss to the Capitals on Nov. 29. The first goal tied Ovechkin with Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history (402), and the second set the record.

    “I’d prefer not to be part of it,” Martin said. “But to be honest it is really cool to play against guys like him. He was the most star-struck guy for me, not necessarily the game I played against him but when I backed up against him last year. I’ve trained with (Connor) McDavid and played with (Nathan) MacKinnon, but I hadn’t seen (Auston) Matthews or Ovechkin until basically I was in Vancouver, and he was the coolest because he was a star player when I was growing up.”

    Hammond, who announced his retirement from the NHL on Dec. 19, knew about the 500-goal milestone going into the game and felt pretty good about preventing it based on his prior success against Ovechkin and the Capitals. But Martin, who is starting a season in the NHL for the first time at age 27, wasn’t aware of the impending road goal milestone.

    Neither was James Reimer, who was with the Toronto Maple Leafs when Ovechkin scored his 300th goal in their first game, April 5, 2011. In fact, Reimer didn’t know it was a milestone until his wife, April, told him last week after seeing it as part of the highlights that ran after Ovechkin reached 800 goals with a hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 13.

    “I do not remember it at all, but my wife was like, ‘Hey, you’re on the list,'” said Reimer, now with the San Jose Sharks. “And I’m like, ‘Cool but I probably gave him more than just one.'”

    Reimer did remember the goal, a 5-on-3 power play one-timer from Ovechkin’s usual spot inside the top of the left face-off circle that beat him high on the blocker side. The reason Reimer remembers it speaks to the fact it probably wouldn’t have mattered if he knew it was a potential milestone going into the game. Most goalies, including Reimer, admit they’ll pay a little closer attention to a shooter chasing a big moment or milestone, but with Ovechkin sometimes it just doesn’t matter. That certainly was the case for his 300th goal.

    “It’s one of those goals where I was just like, ‘Ooh, that’s almost an unstoppable puck,’ because he unloaded it from pretty in tight and it was just like a perfect shot,” Reimer said. “I was like, ‘OK, that’s a good goal right there.’ You just tip your hat.”

    So what is it about Ovechkin’s shot that has left so many goalies tipping their hat?

    “It’s a 95 mph knuckleball,” Reimer said. “It ducks, dodges, dips and dives. It does everything. It’s a boomerang. It is the most unique shot in the NHL for sure.”

    It also can curve, depending where on his wildly curved blade he releases it.

    “He’s got a missile, but his shot is also extremely deceptive,” said Devan Dubnyk, who retired Oct. 29 after 12 NHL seasons and now works part-time as a television analyst for Bally Sports Minnesota and NHL Network. “Wherever that puck comes off his curve is going to change where it’s going, so he can have the same release basically and it can go in four different directions. And the other thing is he just hammers the puck and doesn’t miss the net much.”

    Hammond said Ovechkin’s shot tended to break from the goalies left to right, sometimes catching the top corner on the glove side when it looked like it might go wide, sometimes moving down and away on the blocker side when it looked like it was coming right at you.

    “That’s why you see a lot of goalies look like they get handcuffed by the speed, but I think it’s more the curve of the shot because you start extending to go catch something and then it’s coming back and you kind of handcuff yourself,” Hammond said, adding it could sometimes be worse when Ovechkin didn’t catch it flush. “Like when you see in baseball a hitter expecting a fastball, and it’s a changeup, and they like fall off balance. Same kind of thing. You’re expecting the 100 mile an hour one timer, and then all of a sudden, it’s a 70 mile an hour curveball.”

    Trying to prepare for it, whether there’s a milestone on the line or not, is difficult. Which is why the list of goalies Ovechkin has beaten the most is littered with Hall of Famers, or goalies who one day will be, including a top-three of Marc-Andre Fleury (25 goals), Henrik Lundqvist (24) and Carey Price (22). Kari Lehtonen also allowed 22, with Ryan Miller and Cam Ward next on the list with 18 each.

    Dubnyk said he “always tried extra hard” to not become a milestone goalie, and he did avoid any big moments against Ovechkin despite giving up 12 goals in nine games.

    “For a guy I didn’t play against much he scored a lot of goals on me,” Dubnyk said with a laugh.

    Miller, who retired in 2021 after 18 NHL seasons, said, “a small part of you wants to deny it happening on your watch.”

    “Heavy and a lot of spin,” Miller said. “Some of his shots end up like a slider in baseball because of the spin. You have to get a big piece of it, or it may just skip in because of the velocity.”

    If that happens on a milestone night, there might not be much you can do about it.

    “Goals are going to go in, so I guess you got to take solace in it being him,” Hammond said.

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