By now, you should be aware of this fact – Alexander Ovechkin can score goals. The man has scored 399 goals in 633 career games, a clip that is only bettered by four guys, only two of which were after 1900 – Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy (Babe Dye and Cy Denneny are the other two, but they were born before 1900). Now that we all have a basic understanding of how good of a goal scorer Ovechkin is, what if I told you that he’s scoring even better this year? What if I told you that, in terms of goal scoring, his past 50 games might be one of the most impressive 50-game stretches in the history of the NHL? What I want to do here is look at Ovechkin’s current pace and what his chances are of hitting 50 goals in 50 games, or “50 in 50.” I want to look at all the other previous 50 in 50 campaigns (it’s been done 13 times by 8 different players) and show how Ovechkin’s potential 50 in 50 compares to theirs.
Let’s get started. Technically, a true 50 goals in 50 games is defined as a player scoring 50 goals in his team’s first 50 games. By those standards, Ovechkin is at 28 goals in 33 games. However, Ovechkin missed two games earlier in the season, so Ovechkin has 28 goals in 31 games that he’s actually played in. For the purposes of this article, we will define 50 in 50 as 50 goals in a player’s first 50 games. As stated previously, there have been 13 instances of 50 in 50 by our definition. The closest run we’ve seen to 50 in 50 in the last few years actually came from Pavel Bure in 1999-2000, where he scored 41 in his first 49 games. Ovechkin right now is on fire; he’s got 50 goals in his last 52 games (spanning to the previous season). In his last 50 games, he’s got 12 multi-goal games. Seriously that’s ridiculous. How good must it feel for the Washington Capitals right now knowing that when Ovechkin’s in the lineup, he’s got a 25% chance of scoring two or more goals. His full numbers for his last 50 games are ridiculous at 48 goals, 21 assists (69 points), 20 power-play goals, and 21 multi-point games. Let’s assume Ovi hits 50 in 50 (he needs to score 22 goals in his next 19 games). Let’s say he scores that 50th goal on Saturday, January 25th at the Bell Centre in Montreal. What should we make of it? Let’s look at the other 50-in-50 campaigns.
1944-1945 Maurice “Rocket” Richard – 50 goals in 50 games
The Rocket was the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games, scoring the 50th goal in the last game of the regular against the Boston Bruins. Richard was the first player to score 50 goals in a season and it took a whopping 16 years before another player even hit that mark, despite the season extending to 70 games. However, there are a couple of things I want to point out when we are examining these campaigns a little later. First, this record occurred during World War II when a large number of players were enlisted and therefore not playing in the NHL. The level of competition was severely diminished and the Rocket never duplicated this feat after the war ended. Second, the average team scored 3.48 goals per game, almost a full goal more than what is averaged in today’s NHL (2.67 goals/game). Remember that goalies were smaller, the pads were smaller, and the players were smaller. (I’ll be doing a full write-up tomorrow on how scoring has changed overall so just take my word on that for now.)
The 1980-1994 era
Between 1980 and 1994, we had the other 12 instances of 50 goals in 50 games. That alone should give you an idea of what kind of era it was. The NHL’s been around since 1917. In its first 63 years, the NHL had one instance of 50 goals in 50 games and it took an international war that depleted the NHL of its talent to allow for a special individual to accomplish this. In this 14-year span, the NHL saw 12 instances of 50 goals in 50 games, including players on the same team doing it in the same season (Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri did it for the Edmonton Oilers in the 1984-85 season). Gretzky did it three times, Lemieux did it three times, Brett Hull twice, Kurri once, Mike Bossy once, Alexander Mogilny once, and Cam Neely once. The NHL at this time was a vastly different landscape than what we have today. Goals were up significantly, with teams routinely averaging between 3.5-3.75 goals per game. Power-play opportunities were up, with teams averaging between four and six power plays per game compared to today’s average of around three per game. The goaltenders were smaller, their leg pads were smaller, the standup style was more prevalent, and the game was largely wide open. That era was so conducive to goal scoring that between 1980 and 1994, we had 106 individual 50-goal seasons. If you look at the 14-year span from 1994-2008, we have 32. I think we have to take all scoring records from that era with a grain of salt because how much better are they than the average player? I mean, heck, guys like Bob Kudelski were scoring 40 goals in a season and even his own mother was surprised by that.
Does Ovi have a chance at 50 in 50 this season? The odds are a little against him. He’s got eight home games and 11 away games coming up and unfortunately for Ovi, he’s been much better at home. Ovechkin has scored 20 goals in 18 home games, but just 8 goals in 13 road games. We also know that Ovechkin loves scoring on the power play, tallying 12 of his 28 goals on the power play so far. However, seven of the next 19 games are against teams that are in the bottom third of the NHL when it comes to taking penalties. To me, the crucial games that will determine whether or not he has a legitimate shot are as follows:
December 17th @ Philadelphia – Philadelphia takes the most penalties per game and Ovechkin has scored 26 goals in 30 career games against the Flyers. If Ovechkin can notch two or three goals here, the intensity picks up just a little bit.
December 29th @ Buffalo, January 12th vs. Buffalo – It’s Buffalo. Ovi’s scored 20 goals in 30 career games against them and could use these games to make up ground.
January 15th @ Pittsburgh – Whenever the Capitals play against the Penguins, it always seems to bring the best out of Ovechkin. He loves going head-to-head with Crosby. If Ovechkin can come out of those four games with eight goals or so, he will be sitting pretty in the chase for 50-in-50.
Why Ovechkin’s 50-in-50 might be the best ever
I’ve shown you the other 50 in 50s and they’ve been impressive. Gretzky scoring 50 in 39 will always be the standard for pace. Richard scoring 50 in 50 in 1945 will always be remembered as the first. However, Ovechkin’s 50 in 50 has the potential to be remembered as the most extraordinary, given the era he’s playing in. As most of you are aware, goal scoring is down from the 1980s. Teams this season are averaging 2.67 goals per game, a far cry from the 3.74 goals per game that teams averaged in the 1988-1989 season. We’ve only had nine 50-goal scorers in the last six seasons and three were by Ovechkin. Goalie pads are much larger. Goaltenders themselves are larger. Defenses are better. Shifts are shorter. It’s absolutely incredible what Ovechkin is doing here. Heck, the Buffalo Sabres as a team (if you want to call them that)have only scored 51 goals in 33 games and Ovechkin has 28 in 31. People can say whatever they want about Ovechkin: criticize the man about his defense, criticize his leadership. But I wish that for just the next month, we could all sit back and watch Ovechkin to see if he accomplishes this incredible feat. And if he does, when you adjust for the era he’s playing in, we might be talking about the greatest goal-scoring season of all time.