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Stu Cowan: Canadiens could be victims of Alex Ovechkin's 700th goal

In 49 career games against the Canadiens, Alex Ovechkin has scored 32 goals.
In 49 career games against the Canadiens, Alex Ovechkin has scored 32 goals.

WASHINGTON — It wouldn’t be a surprise if Alex Ovechkin scores his 700th career NHL goal Thursday night against the Canadiens (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The Washington Capitals superstar has been stuck at 698 goals for the last five games — his longest slump of the season — so he’s definitely due to score a couple. Before going into his slump, Ovechkin had scored 14 goals in seven games and you can add in the fact that in 49 career games against the Canadiens the Great 8 has scored 32 goals.

Ovechkin was asked after practice Wednesday if he has fun playing against the Canadiens.

“I’m always having fun playing hockey,” he said with a smile.

“If it happens, it happens,” he added. “It’s just a matter of time. Tomorrow, if not tomorrow, whenever.”

Ovechkin has 40 goals in 58 games this season and is a good bet to hit 50 for the ninth time in his career after scoring 51 last season. At age 34, he shows no signs of slowing down and if he can stay healthy for another four or five years, Ovechkin has a shot at eclipsing Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 career goals.

Gretzky is one of only seven NHL players to reach the 700-goal mark, including Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717) and Mike Gartner (708). Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals in six of the last seven seasons and nine times during his first 14 years in the NHL. He has a chance to do it again this season, trailing only Toronto’s Auston Matthews (43) and Boston’s David Pastrnak (42) in goals through Tuesday’s games.

Ovechkin is 12 years older than Matthews and 11 years older than Pastrnak, which is remarkable.

“I think it’s impressive that he keeps going,” Ovechkin’s linemate, Nicklas Backstrom, said after practice Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter if it’s practice or a game, he’s got that ability with that great shot he has, he just finds the back of the net. It doesn’t matter if it’s practice or a game, he just always scores. I think that just translates into the games the way he plays and the way he shoots.”

Ovechkin’s one-timer is a thing of beauty to watch. He has scored 259 of his career goals on the power play despite the fact everyone knows where he’s going to set up at the top of the faceoff circle on the left wing with his right-hand shot. Teams — and goalies — simply can’t stop him.

“I think he’s done a good job of just making sure he’s open all the time,” Backstrom said. “He knows there’s guys on him all the time, but at the same time, it’s all about adjustment and he’s really good at that, making sure he creates his own space.

“Honestly, everyone talks about his power and everything, but I think his timing is probably the best I’ve seen and the way he’s able to score from everywhere and take one-timers from all angles,” Backstrom added. “That’s really hard to teach.”

Is it even possible to teach someone to shoot and score like Ovechkin?

“Maybe he can teach someone … his son, maybe?” Backstrom said with a grin.

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan was asked the same question.

“No, I think it’s natural,” MacLellan said. “I think guys have it. You can teach some of the habits of scoring, but I think the guys that are at his level, he has that ability and was born with it.

“He has a passion for it,” the GM added. “I think that’s the big thing. Loves to score and he continues to bring that to the rink every day. I think that’s the bottom line. I think he’s energized by seeing where he can finish in the top 10. It’s kind of fun to watch an older guy keep it going like he has.”

It was also fun to watch Ovechkin celebrate after the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup in 2018. After beating the Golden Knights 4-3 in Game 5 in Las Vegas to clinch the championship, Ovechkin paraded the Cup through the lobby of the MGM Grand hotel before filling it with champagne and drinking from it.

The Ovy Party continued for days as he brought the Cup to a Washington Nationals baseball game, throwing a wild ceremonial first pitch. There was also the unforgettable scene of Ovechkin drinking from the Cup face-first while being held up horizontally and then stripping down to his shorts and jumping into the water of the Georgetown Fountain with teammates.

When he eventually crashed, Ovechkin had photos taken of himself hugging the Cup while in bed.

“He probably felt like he had a lot on his shoulders and when we won I feel like he just let go and relaxed after that,” Backstrom said. “He’s a great guy. Very relaxed. When it’s game time, it’s game time, and then when we don’t have any games he’s very relaxed, laughing a lot.

“He’s a happy guy.”

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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