Alex Ovechkin is on the verge of history. He is three goals away from becoming the third NHL player to ever score 800 goals, joining only Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801) on the prestigious list. Ovechkin will get his chance to reach the milestone Tuesday night, as his Capitals face off against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.
This leaves Blackhawks fans in a weird situation. Is it acceptable, as a fan, to root for history?
Before I answer this, I want to acknowledge the awkwardness here. Some fans will always refuse to cheer for Ovechkin over his support of Vladimir Putin. If you fall into that category, I completely understand and support you. It can be extremely difficult to separate “art from the artist,” and it’s something many Blackhawks fans have been faced with because of myriad off-ice disappointments, including issues with Bobby Hull, Patrick Kane, and of course, the entire organization after the Kyle Beach sexual abuse scandal.
That said, an achievement this rare would be incredible to witness, regardless of your opinion of the human being. Gretzky’s 894 goal record is one I never dreamed I’d see broken. With the evolution of goaltenders and the athleticism of defensemen around the league, it almost seems impossible, but Ovechkin just might do it. He’s only 97 goals off of Gretzky’s mark, and is still scoring at a .56 goals per game pace. If he can continue that pace for 175 more games, he’ll break the record. He has three more years on his contract after this season. At this point, Ovechkin breaking the record seems inevitable.
To reach 800 on Tuesday, he’ll need a hat-trick. While that may seem far-fetched, keep in mind that the Blackhawks are expected to start Petr Mrazek, who is fresh off injured reserve from his second groin injury of the season. Couple that potential rust with the fact that Mrazek hasn’t exactly been the second-coming of Patrick Roy this season (4.05 goals against average, .884 save percentage) and the odds don’t seem so insurmountable for Ovechkin.
In his 21 games against the Blackhawks, he has 11 goals and 11 assists. Mrazek is 5-7-2 against the Capitals and has allowed six Ovechkin goals over the course of five games.
Make no mistake, he is absolutely chasing the record. The Capitals have him on the ice with the empty net every time they get the chance. In fact, over his last three games, Ovechkin has four empty net goals. Do you think there might be a chance the Caps have a late lead on the Blackhawks? Hmm…
If you do choose to attend the game (you can get in the building for under $20 with our special Gametime link), don’t feel bad about rooting for history. Hey, maybe he’ll score five goals, reaching 802 and knocking Red Wings legend Gordie Howe down a peg. See? It’s all how you spin it. You’ve rooted for opponent no-hitters. This is no different, especially when considering the Blackhawks are tanking, and losses actually help them in the long run.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday, December 13 vs. Washington Capitals
8:00 pm on ESPN & WGN Radio
The Capitals (14-12-4) are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference Wild Card standings. They aren’t the powerhouse they used to be, but with Ovechkin still lighting up the league, they’re still a fun watch. Old friend Dylan Strome has been centering Ovechkin and Connor Sheary, and who woulda thunk it? He’s doing well! 22 points in 30 games for the former Blackhawk, who will undoubtedly be looking for a bit of revenge against the team that decided they didn’t need him anymore.
Thursday, December 15 vs. Vegas Golden Knights
7:30 pm on NBC Sports Chicago & WGN Radio
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Golden Knights are really good again. Who cares? This is all about Phil Kessel, hockey’s beloved Iron Man, and Chicago’s missed opportunity.
In fairness, the allure of the Sin City’s poker tables probably made it impossible to Phil to say no to Vegas, but has he had a real Italian Beef before? Apparently not.
The Knights are on top of the Pacific division, and quite comfortably. At 20-9-1, Vegas is six points ahead of second-place Seattle, though the Kraken hold three games in hand. While Kessel’s 11 points in 30 games are nothing to write home about, Jack Eichel has re-established his love of hockey (eye roll) since leaving Buffalo, and leads the team in scoring.
Friday, December 16 at Minnesota Wild
7:00 pm ESPN+, Hulu & WGN Radio
There is a certain percentage of folks reading this that identify as Blackhawks fans more than they do as hockey or NHL fans. If you’re in that category, Kirill Kaprizov might not be top of mind when listing the NHL’s best and most exciting players, but he should be. With 34 points in 27 games, the kid is absolutely electric. He skates like the wind, can snipe like few others, and has a knack for the spectacular. When I see the Wild pop up on ESPN+, I make sure to tune in, because when No. 97 is on the ice, something special can happen at any second.
The 14-11-2 Wild hold the second Wild Card spot but are barely .500 at home (7-6-1). The last time these two teams met, Minnesota won 4-3 in the shootout at the United Center. Marc-Andre Fleury could be the starter for the Wild in this one, as well.
Sunday, December 18 vs. New York Rangers
6:30 pm on ESPN & WGN Radio
The last time the Chicago Blackhawks won a game, it was in New York against the Rangers, who can’t quite seem to find their footing after reaching the Eastern Conference Final last season. At 14-10-5, the are holding on, ever so slightly, to the second Wild Card spot in the East, with the hated Detroit Red Wings right on their heels. They still boast some of the most exciting players in hockey, with another old friend, Artemi Panarin, leading the way in scoring. Impossibly, Panarin only has six goals on the season, but his 28 assists keep him secured at the top.
So what has changed for the Rangers? Well, surprising to no one, Chris Kreider has NOT been able to duplicate the 50-goal pace he was on last season, and goaltender Igor Shesterkin has been a little more human than the Rangers are used to. He’s still elite (2.50 goals against average, .917 save percentage), but hasn’t been superhuman like he was last season.