ARLINGTON, VA – Stuck in the longest goaltending drought of his 19-season NHL career, Alex Ovechkin is searching for answers just like everyone else in the hockey world.
The Washington Capitals left wing has not scored in 13 straight games and has five goals in 28 games this season to visit the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; MAX, MNMT, TNT, TVAS). It’s strange territory for the 38-year-old, who is second in NHL history with 827 goals.
So what’s going on?
“I don’t know,” Ovechkin told NHL.com on Wednesday. “A bit of luck. I’ve got chances, I’ve got pretty good chances, but sometimes it’s just a period where maybe you hold the bat too tight because you haven’t scored or something. But overall I think sooner or later it will happen and everything will come in.”
Ovechkin is 67 goals shy of Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 since he last scored against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 18. That record felt well within reach after he scored his 801st and 802nd goals against the Winnipeg Jets on December 23, 2022 to pass Gordie Howe (801) for second on the NHL’s goals list and complete the previous 42-goal season – his league record 13th season with at least 40 goals.
But the goals haven’t come easy this season for Ovechkin and Washington, who is 30th in the NHL with an average of 2.39 goals per game. Ovechkin has the fewest goals through the first 28 games of a career season and is on pace to finish with 15. He has never scored fewer than 32 goals (2010-11) in an 82-game season.
Ovechkin has five assists and 46 shots on goal during his 13-game hitting streak, surpassing his previous stretch of 10 games without a goal from February 22 to March 12, 2017.
“I think it’s a disappointment for me, I think it’s a disappointment for everybody,” he said. “You see we’re not scoring as many goals as we used to and I don’t know if you’re going to blame the system or whatever. We play hockey. We have to create chances. We have to create opportunities for you and your teammates to create them and have a good chance.”
The Capitals (15-9-4) have been able to overcome their scoring woes with strong goaltending and team defense, placing them seventh in the Eastern Conference with a .607 field goal percentage. Ovechkin has a hand in this success.
He is third for the Capitals with 17 points, behind teammates Dylan Strome and Tom Wilson with 18 each.
“He’s had a very strong offensive impact at the same time he’s not scoring, which I wouldn’t say a lot of people would have expected,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. “But you know him.” He can defy all odds and pull something off pretty quickly. But I think he’s done a great job of keeping his head down and accepting what’s going on and, obviously, the team is doing well and that’s also a big factor in everyone’s happiness.”
If the choice was between winning and scoring goals, Ovechkin’s answer would be easy.
“The most important thing is to collect the points and win the games,” he said. “I’d rather be in the playoffs than score 20 goals and be out of contention.”
However, Ovechkin knows that he is expected to score goals.
“Yes. That’s my job,” Ovechkin said. “If I don’t score, then I have to do some different things to help the team win and I think everybody at this point knows who we are and how we have to play.”
Of Ovechkin’s five goals, he has scored one 5-on-5, one 4-on-4, one on the power play and two on empty nets. His 4.8 shooting percentage (on a team-leading 104 shots on goal) is down significantly from last season’s 14.3 and his career average of 12.8.
Among the 31 NHL players with at least 100 shots on goal, only Matthew Tkachuk of the Florida Panthers (five goals in 31 games after scoring 40 last season) has a lower shooting percentage than 4.5 percent.